Yahoo to launch 100 branded entertainment sites

The portal plans to gather a brand-loyal audience in a single site this year where consumers can entertain themselves and advertisers can thrive. Yahoo has embarked on a new ad strategy that will wrap all its content and social networking tools around a single entertainment brand that the portal hopes will attract a passionate audience for advertisers. Called Brand Universe, the initiative involves launching by the end of the year 100 separate websites that take information and services scattered throughout the portal. It then brings them together and funnels them into one branded place. "What we haven't done up until now is to aggregate all of the information and services into one location to have them more easily connect to each other in a social context," Sean Atkins, head of programming and development for entertainment and games at Yahoo, said. The idea is to gather a brand-loyal audience in a single site where they can entertain themselves, while also becoming an easy target for advertisers. The strategy is similar to how marketers buy time in the offline world around a particular TV show. On the web, however, Yahoo can use its massive data-gathering system that's based on visitor behaviour to find the people advertisers want to reach, "We can speak to a particular audience," Atkins said. In general, the new sites will target people 13 to 34 years old, a demographic sweet spot for many marketers. Yahoo's performance has recently lagged in the online advertising market, particular in the area of contextual ads delivered around search results. In addressing investor concerns, the company has rolled out a new ad platform called "Project Panama." In addition, Yahoo plans to launch this month a new system for determining placement of ads on search result pages to offer more relevant ads to visitors. Charlene Li, analyst for Forrester Research, said Brand Universe appears to be a good idea from a money perspective. "Lots of advertising dollars flow to brands," Li said. The question, however, will be whether Yahoo can build the audience. "It's a good idea from an advertising perspective, but how are you going to get visitors there." To create buzz, and keep eyeballs at the sites, Yahoo is hoping to build an online community around the brands by giving people the ability to chat with each other, share photos and bookmarks, and do any other social activity Yahoo currently offers. Yahoo has already created a test bed site around the Nintendo Wii video game console. By the end of the first half of the year, Yahoo said it plans to launch six more, one centred on the children book character Harry Potter as well as the video games Halo and The Sims, the television shows Lost and The Office, and the Transformers toy line. The remaining 100 sites are scheduled to launch in the second half of the year, Atkins said. He declined to name any of the upcoming brands. Yahoo doesn't believe it needs to get the permission of the brands' owners to build the sites. The portal, however, is ready to partner with any of those companies, and would pull the plug on any site, if the brand creator objected. Atkins, however, said no company has objected to Yahoo's use of their brand yet. Atkins believes the initiative will benefit Yahoo's audience through entertainment, benefit advertisers by providing a target audience, and benefit brand creators by giving them a chance to build loyalty with their audience. "It's a win, win," Akins said. No responsibility can be taken for the content of external Internet sites.

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