Observers in the traditional media industry can be excused for never quite getting what Yahoo was doing here in Los Angeles. Yahoo never seemed to quite know either.
Since its founding four years ago, the Santa Monica-based Yahoo Media Group, which houses all of the company's content production, has seen three executives come and go: Former ABC president Lloyd Braun and two of his deputies, Vince Broady and Scott Moore, who each minded the store for about a year before moving on. Braun pushed and the company abandoned a plan to produce network television-caliber programming. Broady's attempt to build "brand universes," destination pages built around top media brands like Harry Potter and Halo, was equally unsuccessful.
At the same time, Yahoo has had three CEOs — former Warner Bros. chief Terry Semel, co-founder Jerry Yang, and current office holder Carol Bartz, who took over in January. There have been numerous reorganizations and executive shifts, along with layoffs, in an attempt to stem a slumping stock and challenge nimble competitors like Microsoft, Facebook, and of course Google.
Jeff Dossett is ready to put chaos in the rear view mirror. Tapped in November as senior VP of U.S. Audience — a post that puts in charge of the Santa Monica office along with some businesses in the Sunnyvale corporate headquarters — he oversees every consumer-facing business, from entertainment to news to the front page to search. Recruited from a similar job overseeing MSN for Microsoft (a post that was ironically filled by Scott Moore), he has brought a decidedly non-Hollywood style to the job, streamlining operations and focusing his staff's efforts on using technology to enhance their content and attract audiences, rather than try to compete with Hollywood programming or adopt their brands as his own.
There isn't even a Yahoo Media Group anymore, for all intents and purposes. Yahoo Santa Monica simply houses the content production components of the audience group, like movies, television, news and sports.
In his first major interview since he first took the job, Dossett spoke to Variety about how Yahoo can handle its competitors, work with traditional media, and produce original series in its own unique way.
In part one of a five part conversation, Dossett explains why leaving Microsoft for Yahoo was like moving to the "big leagues" and how Yahoo can improve its content production and presentation by focusing on delivering key audience segments exactly what they want.
Ben Fritz: So how much time do you spend down here in Santa Monica?
Jeff Dossett: I live in Seattle, but I spend Mondays in the Sunnyvale head office, and then Monday nights I fly to LA and stay here for the rest of the week.
So basically four out of five days, and then multiple times, including this weekend, I stay through the weekend and – my wife's flying down, and one of my kids is flying down, and we love it here.
BF: Well before we get into what we're doing and how you see things, I wanted to sort of start with your coming here, which I think was November?
JD: November fourth or fifth.
BF: It seems you went from one job that was somewhat similar in scope to the same job at a different company. I'm kind of curious what motivated the move.
JD: I wanted to play in the big leagues. Really, that's the essence of it. I was executive producer of another major online portal, but really – this is Yahoo, and Yahoo is literally number one or number two in virtually every category it competes in, and that was an incredible opportunity to work with the largest, most engaged audience online. I think it's an amazing time in the industry, and leadership matters. It matters for the audience, and it matters for the advertisers, and really, being able to work with the assets Yahoo has, and figure out how to better package them and present them to meet the needs of audience and advertisers, was really just a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Despite all the time I'd spent in a previous role with a previous company, it was a very, very easy decision for me to make once the opportunity became available.