Verizon is putting shopping at the heart of its media business

Posted at 10:53 AM, Jun 24, 2019
and last updated 2019-06-24 12:53:48-04

Six months ago, Verizon declared that its media brands were virtually worthless. Now it’s trying to reinvent the business under a new name, with a plan to turn readers into online shoppers.

Guru Gowrappan, a former Alibaba executive who took the helm as Verizon Media’s CEO nine months ago, wants to diversify revenue so that ad sales, subscriptions and transactions are roughly equal in size five years from now.

His teams have recently launched a bunch of offerings the company hopes will help it pivot from being a collection of traditional media websites — such as Yahoo, HuffPost and TechCrunch — to becoming more of a one-stop “super-app” that also lets you buy sneakers, book movie tickets and trade stocks.

“This is something new that we just launched,” Gowrappan told CNN Business in an interview Monday, pulling up an updated version of the Yahoo Mail app and tapping at the screen. Beside his emails, a “Deals” tab appears, listing a slew of online shopping offers meant to be tailored to your preferences.

“[It’s] kind of enabling commerce through mail, but we’re going to lean in more,” he said.

Verizon’s media business used to be known as Oath. In December, Verizon took a $4.6 billion writedown on Oath, essentially saying its brand was only worth $200 million. Earlier this year, the media business also cut 7% of its workforce.

It has since been renamed, and the company is investing heavily, launching more than 20 new products and upgrades in six months. It’s planning another big announcement for the fall.

“That reset of the business plan is actually what led to right now,” said Gowrappan. “I think it was the right thing to do.”

Online shopping is key to the future of Verizon Media. The “deals” tab on Yahoo Mail is one example of the effort to ramp up “inbox commerce,” said Gowrappan.

The company is taking a page out of Instagram’s playbook, which for years resisted allowing users to click on external links but now lets people shop on third-party websites without leaving the app.

Gowrappan said the shift was needed. About 75% of content that reaches the company’s billion monthly active users “has commercial intent,” he explained. “But we only monetize through the ad business.”

One day, sports fans watching the NBA on a Verizon Media platform should, for example, also be able to buy their favorite team jerseys.

And through Yahoo Finance Premium — another recent addition — a subscriber can look up stocks and log into their online trading account in one go.

“I’m not saying we’ll become a trading platform, but I should at least let you connect to your eTrade account,” said Gowrappan.