Could Google or Tencent Beat Facebook to Buying Snapchat?

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Right now, Snapchat is having its “belle of the ball” moment.

The mobile messaging service – which lets users exchange photos and video that disappear after a few seconds – is being courted by Facebook. It has long been an app that CEO Mark Zuckerberg lusted after.

Thursday afternoon brought another turn of the screw. Valleywag reported that Google could also possibly be considering taking a run at Snapchat, matching Facebook’s $3 billion to $3.5 billion offer. Google and Facebook aren’t commenting, but sources said that Google has indeed expressed some interest in a deal. Tencent, the Chinese consumer Internet company, has also been eyeballing the company, according to sources.

I don’t know Snapchat’s fate, and from what I’ve been told, Snapchat CEO Evan Spiegel himself is unsure of it. But it got me thinking – whether they’re in the running or not, which companies are most likely to go after the fast-growing Snapchat?

Let’s go down the list.

Facebook:
Zuckerberg wants Snapchat bad. So bad, in fact, that he tried – and failed – to clone the app outright. Sources familiar with the matter have described the Facebook CEO as “obsessed” with Snapchat and the idea of ephemeral messaging. They told AllThingsD that he has made multiple offers to acquire the company, some for more than the $1 billion he paid for Instagram last year.

Likelihood: Very High

Google:
Google may have Google+, but it knows it can’t hold a candle to Facebook or even Twitter when it comes to social mobile apps. Buying Snapchat could give Google immediate overnight relevance in social, while simultaneously dealing a blow to Facebook. Not to mention that $3 billion is a pittance for the highly profitable company to spend on an acquisition.

Likelihood: High

Tencent:
This is a good fit. Spiegel has described Tencent as a “role model” for Snapchat in terms of revenue models – potentially alluding to in-app purchasing possibilities for the startup.

And Tencent is indeed interested – if not in a full acquisition, then at the very least in a large strategic investment.

Likelihood: Very High

Yahoo:
A dark horse, and at this point not an entrant as far as I’ve heard. Still, CEO Marissa Mayer has the cash to make the deal, and is no stranger to acquisitions. Plus, an acquisition of Snapchat could help to both bolster Yahoo’s mobile efforts – which are lacking – and burnish its less-than-cool image – sort of like buying Tumblr did.

Still, there’s no evidence to my knowledge that Yahoo has approached Spiegel or Snapchat about a potential acquisition.

Likelihood: Unlikely

Twitter:
After long considering killing off its direct-messaging feature entirely, Twitter woke up last year and figured out that people actually love sending private messages. Another satellite app acquisition – similar to the one it did with Vine – could make sense.

Problem is, the figures being thrown around for Snapchat now are way out of Twitter’s price range. They’re nearly double the amount the company just raised in its initial public offering. At this point, Snapchat is far too rich for Twitter’s blood.

Likelihood: Not at all likely

A caveat to many of the past week’s stories on this topic: It’s possible – if not likely – that the escalating prices and number of companies involved is largely due to jockeying from Snapchat insiders who stand to make hundreds of millions on the deal. Read each new report with that in mind.

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Another thing to remember: Spiegel intends to raise yet another round of funding for his company at a hefty valuation. If another round goes through, there will likely be a secondary component to it, in which Spiegel and co-founder Bobby Murphy could sell some of their own shares and cash out. That means the two could still continue to go for broke and build out their own company rather than sell to the highest bidder, while having the insurance of already having taken some money off the table. And according to multiple people close to Snapchat, Spiegel and Murphy very much want to build out the startup into a full-fledged company.

Bottom line: If Snapchat keeps growing – and sources said that is indeed the case – Spiegel isn’t under the gun to make a decision today. If all goes well, his acquisition offers – and the high prices they command – likely won’t disappear.

Yahoo bundles up its fantasy games into a new Fantasy Sports app for Android and iOS

791629321 520x245 Yahoo bundles up its fantasy games into a new Fantasy Sports app for Android and iOS

Yahoo has launched its newest Fantasy Sports app for iOS and Android that comes with a new redesign and mobile drafting. This is the first app that integrates technology from the company’s recent acquisitions, Bignoggins Productions and Loki Studios.

In a blog post, Yahoo’s Product Director of Mobile Fantasy Sports Ron Belmarch writes that users can sign up, draft a team, and win the league championship from wherever they are. The app also includes notifications to help keep fans up-to-date on what’s happening with their favorite team.

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The company says it recognizes that Draft Day is one of the most important dates for fantasy football players. The updated app includes mock drafting capabilities to prepare users for the actual thing – and it’s not just for football as this feature will be implemented soon for basketball, hockey, and baseball.

When the time comes, users (or managers, as they’re called) will be able to handle the competition and get the players they want from any device they have. Mobile drafting lets them pick players, set their queue, check the results, and even chat with other managers to perhaps plan a strategy or execute a trade.

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This mobile app is the first since Yahoo acquired Bignoggins Production and Loki Studios earlier this year. Players should be able to see the integrations when they use the Fantasy Sports app.

With Bignoggins Production, the technology behind its popular Fantasy Monster and Draft Monster apps has been used in the Fantasy Sports app. Yahoo acquired Loki Studios for its location-based mobile gaming offering.

Yahoo Fantasy Sports for iOS and Google Play

Photo credit: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

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Yahoo Creates Wish List For Your Desired User Names

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If you’re itching to shed that old, embarrassing Yahoo username in favor of something a little more age appropriate, we’ve got good news. Mayer and Co. have just opened up a wish list to request inactive usernames. Plug in your five moniker requests (in order of preference) by August 7th, and if you’re first in line for an account that hasn’t been used in over a year, it’ll be yours by the middle of the month. Once the search giant sends a message to your inbox, simply click the included link within 48 hours and the re-purposed account will be yours. After the initial period, folks will be able to add usernames to a watch list, and will be alerted when they become available. Worried that password recovery messages sent from other services to reused addresses could be a security issue? Yahoo is too.

Read the full story at Engadget.

Yahoo Still Has Lots of Money to Spend on Acquiring Start-Ups

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Yahoo just released its mixed Q2 earnings, and a few sentences may have given the answer everyone was waiting for – yes, Yahoo still has plenty of cash to pursue more acquisitions. Evidence of this lies in the company’s share buyback program. “During the second quarter of 2013 Yahoo repurchased 25 million shares for $653 million,” one can read in the release. Those are part of a bigger $5 billion program. These shares can be reissued and sold for cold cash any day. Back in September 2012, Marissa Mayer decided to sell 40 percent of Yahoo’s stake in Alibaba for $7.6 billion. $3.65 billion was set aside to reinvest in Yahoo shares, proving that the company is confident in its own future. “We are happy to announce that as of today we have essentially completed our commitment to return $3.65 billion from our Alibaba Group proceeds to shareholders, repurchasing a total of 190 million shares,” wrote CFO Ken Goldman in today’s earnings release.

Read the full story at TechCrunch.

The Yahoo Influence: Tumblr Stops Indexing Porn Blogs (But Won’t Police Them)

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Tumblr has quietly stopped indexing adult-oriented blogs in search engines and in Tumblr’s internal searches, a move that has raised new questions about whether the popular blogging service will crack down on porn in the wake of its acquisition by Yahoo. An FAQ doc for adult-oriented blogs, apparently published in the past couple of months, distinguishes between blogs that have occasional adult content and those that publish it regularly. The former continue to be indexed in search engines; the latter are not. Valleywag, which reported on the changes today, accused Tumblr of beginning to push porn into “an internet sex ghetto.” But it’s unclear how broadly the updated policy is being applied. Searches for porn Tumblrs on Google and on Tumblr itself continue to yield results by the thousands. And the same social features that help other Tumblrs go viral – following, liking, and reblogging – will continue to surface new porn content on Tumblr even if porn blogs disappear from search engines.

Read the full story at The Verge.

Is Yahoo’s Mayer Turning Into a Media Mogul With Katie Couric Web Video Deal?

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According to numerous sources inside the company, Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer has turned her attentions of late to goosing the site’s media efforts. That includes personally shepherding a new deal to put a Web interview show by high-profile television news personality Katie Couric right on its home page.

In addition, said sources, Mayer – who is pretty mediagenic herself – has also recently met with execs from Conde Nast for very preliminary talks, and has expressed interest in cooking up some kind of content deal with its flagship Vogue magazine.

(Coincidentally – or not! – she recently appeared in a splashy photo spread and interview in the fashion bible’s September issue. The story included breaking news about Mayer’s massive collection of cashmere bolero designer sweaters and, oh yeah, she runs a major public Internet company.)

What’s striking about both deals is the hands-on involvement of Mayer, who has apparently been working closely on them, especially Couric’s. Sources said the talks have recently moved to include top execs at ABC, which has a robust news partnership with Yahoo.

Among Internet companies, AOL has perhaps been most active in trying to leverage celebrities – in its case, Heidi Klum and Marlo Thomas – to attract audiences. But results have been mixed, mostly due to content that is not terrifically different or innovative.

Couric has done previous appearances for Yahoo, including one event for advertisers, and there is already an offering called “Katie’s Take” on Yahoo News, launched about a year ago. But it is basically repurposed content from her ABC daytime talk show, “Katie,” and written by others, recently including a riveting video about “Orgasm After Menopause.”

The new deal, if struck, would be much more substantive, and presumably would seek to deliver the content in more interesting ways. Sources said it would center on exclusive interviews with a range of high-profile celebrities, business execs and more, done by Couric specifically for the Web and prominently featured on the Yahoo homepage. Sources said that ABC would need to reach agreements about the scope of her role on Yahoo, and balance them with her obligations to ABC.

Since she left her job as well-known news anchor at CBS and, previously, as longtime star of NBC’s “Today Show,” Couric has been host of of ABC’s “Katie,” which will debut its second season on Sept. 9.

According to the “Katie” website, “Couric joined the Disney/ABC Television Group in summer 2011, and serves as special correspondent for ABC News, contributing to ABC World News, Nightline, 20/20, Good Morning America, This Week and primetime news specials.”

Strengthening its online video efforts has been a recent key focus for Mayer in reviving Yahoo’s fortunes, along with mobile, and sources said that she has talked a lot internally about creating some kind of competitor to Google’s YouTube. Yahoo already tried unsuccessfully to buy France’s Dailymotion, and has since been mulling other major acquisitions in the space.

Mayer has waded into the arena herself (like I said, she’s a hey-look-at-me CEO) in an unusual – but highly entertaining – video presentation of Yahoo’s second-quarter earnings that was formulated in a news-broadcast style.

On the show – which it most certainly was – she stressed the intent to make video a “primary area of investment over the next year.” It’s not just for jazz-hands purposes; video ads are a big area of revenue growth online as traditional graphical ads fade. Yahoo itself has seen a sharp falloff of those key moneymaking ads under Mayer’s regime, part of a larger trend impacting everyone.

Yahoo has already struck a pricey deal for the longtime video archives of “Saturday Night Live,” but that money is harder to recoup compared to a show Yahoo has that catches on.

“We think there’s room for lots of players and video really comes down to the question of the content,” Mayer said on the call, calling out Yahoo Screen, its video portal, and original shows like “Burning Love.” She said that most of the video deals would be via partnerships, rather than via Yahoo’s own original programming.

Yahoo is more likely, of course, to focus itself as a platform than as a content creator, as it plays into Mayer’s tech background. That said, among many execs in the Web space, she has been more attracted to the media scene, and struck deals for Google to buy content properties like Zagat while there.

This deal seems to be an original offering, said sources, so we’ll see when and if it comes to fruition. Additional efforts to up Yahoo’s video business will require the hiring of a top media exec to replace recently departed media chief Mickie Rosen. Internal sources said Mayer has said she is aiming to hire a top television exec for the job, to underscore the company’s commitment to video.

Interestingly, Yahoo recently named a well-regarded and experienced British television exec, Dawn Airey, to lead its efforts in Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

An ABC exec declined to comment, as did Yahoo PR (which has suddenly gotten more responsive – thanks, Sara!).

Exclusive: In Yet Another Internal Hire, Yahoo’s Mayer Makes Mann Search Head

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Longtime Yahoo techie Laurence “Laurie” Mann, who has recently been SVP of engineering operations at the Silicon Valley Internet giant, has been given the new job of heading its search efforts, according to sources inside the company.

The appointment by CEO Marissa Mayer, also announced in an internal memo last week, puts Mann in a key position at Yahoo, given the need to fix its troubled search partnership with Microsoft, which was struck in 2010.

That is likely to come under great pressure in the days ahead, given that its performance has not been as expected, although that did improve in Yahoo’s most recent quarter.

Still, despite the improvement, Mayer called attention to the overall problem at a recent appearance at an investment conference.

“One of the points of the alliance is that we collectively want to grow share rather than just trading share with each other,” she said. “We need to see monetization working better, because we know that it can, and we’ve seen other competitors in the space illustrate how well it can work.”

By competitors, Mayer meant Google, whose share of the search market is close to 67 percent. Microsoft has just above 16 percent now, and Yahoo above 12 percent, a near flipping of share from two years ago.

Mann, who came to Yahoo in 2002, had been one of the execs at Yahoo who worked on the original deal under former CEO Carol Bartz, vetting the terms of the agreement for the company. While he has a degree from Canada’s University of Regina in business administration and computer science operations research, he is better known at the company for his deal-making and negotiating skills than as a techie or product exec.

That will be important, given that the end of the performance guarantee that Microsoft has had to pay to Yahoo since the partnership began comes in April.

Sources at Microsoft said the company is unlikely to extend the agreement without major concessions, and that any efforts to end the overall deal will be difficult for Yahoo.

“There is what [Yahoo] wants, and what’s possible,” said one person close to the situation.

In his new job, Mann will be in charge of improving the situation, which he has had some experience with. Mann, said one source, “used to spends hours at night on the phone with Microsoft trying to get concessions from their lack of RPS achievement,” referring to revenue per search.

Whether that means he can fix the situation — either by extricating Yahoo from the deal or improving Yahoo’s search experience to boost revenue and market share — is unclear. Mayer herself has a lot of search product chops from her time at Google, so she is expected to play a dominant role in the arena.

Another important effort for her, obviously, is still recruitment, given that a number of her choices for top product and tech jobs at Yahoo have been longtime veterans who were in place when the company was experiencing its continuing downward slide.

Among her options is buying a small search company, trying to end the Microsoft deal and perhaps strike another one with Google, or even reenter the search business with innovative engineers.

That is a big job. When Mayer was hired last summer, it was thought that she would bring in talent to reinvigorate Yahoo’s top echelons from outside the company.

But, for the most part, that has not happened, and she has appointed a lot of Yahoo’s longtime veterans to important roles in the turnaround.

For example, Mayer brought back Jay Rossiter to run platforms, appointed Scott Burke to head advertising tech, and now has put Mann into a top job in search — all of whom report directly to her on her executive staff.

Tennis Champ Agassi Gives Yahoo Sales Troops a Pep Talk

Yahoo COO Henrique De Castro has been holding a global sales conference in Las Vegas this week, bringing together the large group of employees at the Silicon Valley Internet giant who are in charge of a big chunk of its revenue. While it’s a lot of talking by top execs about the dramatic new advertising structure that he has put into place, there is always the requisite inspirational speaker (in 2007, at another meeting, it was Apple’s Steve Jobs). For this event, sources said, it was former tennis champ Andre Agassi appearing there to get the troops juiced. The once-pugnacious athlete — who is now married to another tennis phenom, Steffi Graf — was probably a good choice, especially since one of his well-known quotes is: “Being number two sucks.”