Today it's stocks. Tomorrow, it's shops.
, which four months ago leaped into original video Netcasting with a financial news channel, will next roll out an online shopping channel, says Eric Scholl, director of
The establishment of a second online video channel illustrates how, well before any material revenue or significant audience, Yahoo! is laying the groundwork to become a major force in original video programming on the Internet. (
explored Yahoo!'s video plans in a
piece in April.
staffers appear on FinanceVision.) The expansion into new channels is an important part of Yahoo!'s efforts to offer users the complete Internet experience, a diversification that for now keeps its stock relatively healthy even as other e-commerce shares tank.
Yahoo!'s new channel also threatens other companies attempting to establish video-shopping franchises on the Web, including
Home Shopping Network
, which is partly owned by the
The new shopping channel, slated to start in time for the holiday season, won't resemble home-shopping channels like HSN or
, nor will it copy the FinanceVision structure, says Scholl. Instead, he suggests, it will employ content created by the cybervendors, as well as product reviews already available on Web sites. "It's a perfect opportunity for us to aggregate that product," he says.
Yahoo! has already said that as it prepares for a world dominated by high-speed access to the Internet it intends to expand beyond FinanceVision to create video programming for more geographic areas and subjects. But the company has been coy about saying what spinoffs it might launch next, leading one publication to surmise that a sports channel would be next.
Part of the appeal of a shopping Webcast, says Scholl, is the chance to develop an additional revenue stream from the transactions conducted via an online shopping broadcast. Current sources of FinanceVision revenue include banner ads and streaming-media commercials integrated into the programming; Scholl says FinanceVision is also starting a push to make money by cobranding versions of the service for companies that want to run private Webcasts, as well as by archiving investment conferences for a fee.
"FinanceVision is really the first test we've seen of the integration of streaming across the Net into a content site," says Christopher Dixon, the new-media analyst at
who rates Yahoo! and USA Networks buy, the firm's highest rating. PaineWebber has done advisory work for USA but not for Yahoo!. The analyst adds that a service like ShoppingVision is "absolutely consistent with what's going on at USA."
The basis of a shopping-on-the-Net effort, says Dixon, is something that USA's Barry Diller calls "contextual marketing," or programming that allows you to buy something at the click of a button. Some of what Dixon calls gating issues, or what a company needs to run a successful shopping channel, include order-fulfillment capabilities, customer-service representatives, back-office systems and merchandising experience. Along those lines, Diller's HSN "is actually probably in a better position to take advantage of an integrated shopping offering," Dixon says, than a newcomer like Yahoo!.
That's not to say the shopping initiative is poorly conceived. For example, Dixon notes that shopping appears to be a better fit than sports. "It's very hard to do a viable sports platform without having a relationship with a television network," Dixon explains.
Because of the size of FinanceVision's audience, the big advertising and commerce bucks seem awful distant.
Yahoo! won't disclose how many viewers it has, but a rough guess is that it's pretty small. Scholl says Yahoo! streamed 75,000 hours of FinanceVision in June, with the recent average session time amounting to 26 minutes. Assuming each FinanceVision viewer showed up for one session at the average length, a maximum of 173,000 Yahoo! users sampled FinanceVision in June. That's about one-tenth of 1% of Yahoo!'s monthly visitors, and "that's how many shoppers watched HSN in the last 30 seconds," Dixon says. "The worst show on the major networks is getting 10 times the monthly viewers realized by Yahoo! today."
To slice the audience figures another way, start with the number of hours that FinanceVision broadcast in June: roughly 176 (or 22 market days multiplied by the eight hours a day that FinanceVision Webcasts). Divide the 75,000 viewed June hours by 176, and you get an average of about 425 viewers per hour.
That doesn't seem quite at the level of
Who Wants to Be a Millionaire
And yet there's obviously an appetite for video programming on the Web, especially as the number of homes and businesses with high-speed connections to the Internet increases. Yahoo! says about 75 million of its users connect to the Internet by high-speed connections that would be appropriate for broadband. Yahoo!Broadcast, which Webcasts broadcast stations, investor conference calls and other streaming media on the web, distributed more than 13 million hours of audio and video programming in June. So even within Yahoo!, there's plenty of room for growth.
Key to that growth, says Scholl, is Yahoo!'s ability to get site visitors interested in FinanceVision by getting them to sample archived material from FinanceVision that's integrated with conventional text and charts on Yahoo!Finance. Scholl calls that approach getting users to come in through the back door, as opposed to the front door of a Web site's home page. "It's really not enough to have a front door at this point and think that a lot of people will come in through the front door," Scholl says.