Redo Aims to Make Users Shout Yahoo!

Dec 4, 2006  •  Post A Comment

Yahoo is the latest online video site to undergo a makeover.

Last week the Web portal introduced a completely new look to Yahoo TV, the television portal portion of the search engine. Yahoo’s efforts follow a flurry of redesign activity in the past several months by online video sites as they aim to stay ahead of the competition by introducing new features and better navigation. It’s Yahoo TV’s first overhaul in five years.

The facelift for Yahoo TV, which provides information, listings and video clips in support of broadcast and cable programming, could draw some attention to Yahoo; the site has been playing a distant second fiddle of late to other online video behemoths MySpace, YouTube and Google, which have dominated headlines over the past few months. Late last month, Google reported that it nearly doubled its third-quarter profit, while Yahoo’s profit for the same period fell 38 percent.

If Yahoo TV is successful in luring new viewers to the site-via the added features, additional videos and a new embedded video player-it could begin to turn its fortunes around. The goal of any such site overhaul is not only to provide a better user experience, but also to increase traffic and garner more ad dollars.

Complete Overhaul

“Yahoo is considered a bit staid and not as progressive as the others, so they want to position themselves better with the redesign,” said T.S. Kelly, VP and director of research and insight for Media Contacts, the interactive arm of media agency MPG. “If Yahoo is not getting its fair share, it has to reinvent itself. I applaud Yahoo.”

Site revamps are increasingly common for online video destinations, which need to remain competitive. AtomFilms, now a part of MTV Networks, was scheduled to unveil a newly designed site today. (See separate story.) That comes on the heels of redesigns this fall by smaller video sites such as Blip.TV, StupidVideos and Revver.com, as well as a big overhaul that AOL Video undertook in early August when it introduced its download-to-own service.

Such moves are necessary because almost anyone can launch an online video destination today with minimal cost, said Len Ostroff, CEO of online video technology provider Rovion. “You have to constantly think ahead,” he said. Many online video sites first hit the market with a scattershot approach to the user experience, testing and trying various features. Once they have received feedback from users, they can refine the experience to include better searchability and improved navigation, for instance, Mr. Ostroff said.

The Yahoo redesign, which went live Tuesday, includes an embedded video player. “This is a complete bottoms-up overhaul. Every last pixel is new,” said Karin Gilford, general manager of Yahoo Entertainment. Yahoo TV’s traffic was up 25 percent for October with 7.5 million unique users, compared with 6 million a year ago, according to numbers provided by Nielsen//NetRatings.

The redesign, which has been under way since Yahoo streamed CBS’s “Jericho” at the start of the fall season, is based on new notions of how consumers interact with video online. In the old version, a user would click on a piece of video and it would launch a separate player. Now the embedded video player remains on each page, which allows the user to watch video while also perusing potential clips or TV show information. “Consumers don’t want to be flipped around,” Ms. Gilford said. “It accommodates the Internet multitasking environment.”

As the availability of video online mushrooms, the next issue becomes how to program and package all of that content, Ms. Gilford said. “How do we put it in the right place so perhaps not the early adopters but the whole market gets to a place to consume videos?” she said. “That’s what a lot of the redesigns are doing-creating a better user experience and instead of shoehorning video into the site, making it the crown jewel and centerpiece.”

Other features of the Yahoo TV facelift include a dynamic menu above the fold that contains links to the most buzzworthy TV shows at any moment, Ms. Gilford said. The new site also includes a series of thematic collections, such as “Guilty Pleasures,” for shows people don’t always admit they watch, and “I See Dead People,” for shows dealing with the supernatural.

Finally, the new TV grid on the site is personalized for users and is also “persistent,” which means it follows the viewers as they navigate around the site and visit different pages. Also, when users click on a show in the grid, they’ll be taken to a page with video clips from that show, artwork and a photo gallery, rather than text-based show descriptions.

These new features will serve as the backdrop for additional changes slated for the next few months. Yahoo plans to add more video content for each TV show and will integrate the TV features across its various services, such as Yahoo Groups and Flickr, Yahoo’s photo-sharing service. Yahoo TV will also produce best-of collections for the holidays and for the fall season.

AOL has also made changes to its TV portal in the past year. After adding the In2TV channel in March with classic Warner Bros. TV shows, AOL launched a new video portal in August with free and downloadable TV content from partners such as A&E and Fox. Additional new features with AOL’s redesign included more than 45 new on-demand “content channels” from various entertainment partners. “Everyone is looking for increased focus and maximizing revenues,” said Jim Hughes, executive director of AOL TV.