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Why Yahoo's Marissa Mayer Is 2014's Top CEO By a Landslide

By: Rocco Pendola | 07/22/14 - 08:00 AM EDT

Stocks in this article: YHOOLYV

One -- Mayer clearly understands what it takes for Yahoo! to emerge as a top media company in the 21st century. To some extent, she must play the same game as everybody else. If Amazon.com (AMZN) and Netflix (NFLX) are hawking lame original programming that can't compare to HBO's slate, Yahoo! must do likewise. People expect "originals" from a modern day video streamer so that's what -- in some fashion -- Yahoo! must deliver. Same theory holds for building partnerships with established names such as Saturday Night Live. But what sets Mayer apart is that she knows there has got to be a differentiator. And, with live concert streaming, she managed to latch onto one that, to a company, has been roundly and misguidedly ignored.

Mayer realizes she must make Yahoo! a destination for something bigger ... for something stickier ... for something that triggers more loyalty and emotion than the weather report or a sports score ... than even your garden variety original program or viral video. She needs something that will give people a reason to keep coming back to Yahoo!

She's almost there.

I'm convinced the Live Nation deal is a test. A dynamic way to work out the kinks and pilot the notion of live concert streaming. To gauge response, learn from mistakes and use the experience to inform the next step. Because, as great of a move as it is, doing a different show from a different band every night isn't going generate the type of loyalty Yahoo! requires from its users. You're in one night because you love DMB, but you're probably not compelled to come back the next night to see an act you're not quite as rabid about.

That said, for one night diehard to casual DMB fans made Yahoo! a destination to watch a high-quality stream of a great concert. The next best thing to being there. That plants the proper seed ... a seed Yahoo! must nurture aggressively in the coming months, which leads to highly-related point number two.

Two -- don't be surprised if you see partnerships between Yahoo! and record labels and/or individual acts as well as deals (possibly M&A) between Yahoo! and live concert streaming startups. From here, the creation of a live concert streaming subscription business makes ideal sense. I detail the allure and overall efficacy of this approach in April's Live Concerts Would Lift Yahoo!'s Video Strategy. Read that article before you object to the notion of charging fans a monthly fee to watch a tour live along with archived access to shows.

The Live Nation deal brings people in the door. Amping things up a notch or three gives music fans reason to build a relationship with Yahoo!. To make it a "daily habit" in the words of Mayer. Landing a subscription-based deal with a major name such as Taylor Swift (who will likely go out on tour again later this year or beginning of next) kickstarts that process. The music industry will respond to this type of domino; it just needs somebody else to set up the bones and give the first one a flick.

Critics can bag on Mayer all they want, but what she's doing here qualifies her as the year's top CEO by a wide margin. If you look around tech just about everybody is following a relatively predictable rulebook. For example, we'll get a new iPhone and a follow-the-crowd iWatch from Apple (AAPL). While this is not necessarily a bad thing, there's nothing inherently dynamic or different about these moves.

By moving forward aggressively (and she's not done yet) with live concert streaming, Mayer is setting Yahoo! up to be the earliest large-scale adopter of a business that, in a short period of time, can generate hundreds of millions if not billions of subscription and fresh advertising dollars. And Mayer won't merely impact Yahoo! with Yahoo! Screen; she'll help breath new life into a music industry that has seen roughly $10 billion drain from its top line over the last decade.

This is CEO of the year type stuff, if, for no other reason, because Mayer's going where nobody else dares go. She's being bold. She's thinking different. That's why Yahoo! hired her! The fact that what she's doing will work only makes it all the more exciting.

--Written by Rocco Pendola in Santa Monica, Calif.

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Rocco Pendola writes for TheStreet. He lives in Santa Monica. Disclosure: TheStreet's editorial policy prohibits staff editors, reporters and analysts from holding positions in any individual stocks.

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