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Yahoo ups originals

Website is increasing original content

Yahoo Media Group, a division of the Netco racked by exec turnover since the late 2006 exit of topper Lloyd Braun, has ramped up its original programming under CEO Carol Bartz.

Yahoo has launched a series of programs during the past six months — OMG’s “The 411” and “This Week in Music” debuted late last month — and has many more in development.

Website is also beefing up its editorial content, hiring a number of displaced journos much as AOL has in recent months.

But Yahoo execs say they have no intention of trying to revive Braun’s ambitious plans to create TV-style programming for the Internet. Rather, Yahoo is looking for low-risk ways to engage visitors as it moves away from a search focus. The Netco, which struck an outsource search deal with Microsoft this summer, is trying to reinvent itself as a media company.

“Going forward, one of our key investments will be in original content and video,” said Jimmy Pitaro, who was elevated to VP of Yahoo Media in February after several years devoted to sports. “We’re trying to build a voice for our media properties.”

The key, he said, is to create original shortform programming that builds on content in core sectors such as sports, entertainment and music. Yahoo now produces 10% of its video, the rest supplied by partners, but Pitaro expects that to increase to 15% within the next year. He said it may increase to as “high as 20%” but was unlikely to surpass that percentage due to cost concerns.

“Video is driving a lot of engagement at our site and across the Internet,” Pitaro explained.

Indeed, media companies of all shapes and sizes are ramping up their online video in a bid to attract, and hold onto, visitors. MySpace hopes to regain its luster with original programming such as “Circle of 8,” a 10-episode thriller from Paramount Digital Entertainment that will premiere on the social media site this month with Mountain Dew as a sponsor.

Yahoo’s original programming tends to be more modest in scope. Most of its current programs riff on news by subject — think infotainment — and last no more than five minutes.

“Primetime in No Time,” for example, recaps the TV shows from the prior evening; “Daytime in No Time” does the same for daytime yakkers. “Primetime” is by far Yahoo’s most popular skein, attracting 7 million-plus users on peak days, according to the company; it has generated more than 280 million streams since its March 2008 debut.

OMG’s “The 411” has fun with gossip developments, while “Spotlight to Nightlight” focuses on celebrity moms and “The Thread” on celebrity fashion. Other programs include “TechTicker,” a look at stocks, “Yahoo Sports Minute,” “Fantasy Football Live,” “This Week in Music” and “Good Morning Yahoo.” Four of these programs launched in the past six months; “Yahoo Sports Minute,” the granddaddy of the bunch, debuted in February 2007.

The Netco is considering slightly longer segments on new programs but won’t launch programs without a sponsor. “This Week in Music,” for example, is sponsored by Target; JCPenney sponsors “Daytime in No Time.”

At present, Yahoo’s themed sub-sites are a bit of a hodgepodge, and the video programming can be tricky to find. That may improve under the centralized approach spearheaded by exec Dave Morgan, who has spent several years building Yahoo Sports. Morgan, a former editor at the Los Angeles Times, has created a 24/7 universal desk to unify practices across various verticals and is hiring editors to beef up various subject areas. Yahoo News has already begun gearing up for next year’s interim election, for example, and is in the process of hiring an entertainment editor.

Although the division has weathered its share of frustrations over the years, Pitaro insists it is a priority under Bartz, who took over as CEO in January.

“We’re locked and loaded in media,” said Pitaro. “There is no confusion internally — I can promise you that.”

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