In a significant development, AT&T’s Yellowpages.com is replacing Yahoo! Local Search for AT&T’s broadband and Internet customers. It is a move that will greatly enhance Yellowpages.com’s position in the space. The company recently told analysts it expects to attract 2 billion searches in 2008 and 3 billion by 2010.
The move is part of a broad multi-year reworking of AT&T’s existing deal with Yahoo! that gives Yahoo! $300 million to $400 million in upfront cash, according to analysts interviewed by paidContent.
It replaces a previous deal that was primarily based on providing Yahoo! with a share of every AT&T broadband user for a co-branded AT&T/Yahoo! portal and sell through of premium services — an arrangement that AT&T has publicly chafed at.
According to published reports, the previous deal brought Yahoo! roughly $300 million in high margin cash flow. A complete collapse of the deal was unlikely, but the renegotiated terms reflect AT&T’s strong position in the company’s many markets like wireless, directories, and increasingly, the Internet.
AT&T is clearly focused on building up its own portal efforts. The new deal will have a portal “powered by Yahoo!.” With the Yahoo! deal completed, it is adding access to its portal and e-mail for all AT&T customers, not just AT&T Internet customers.
The news comes at an interesting time. Last week, the wireless spectrum bids were due and AT&T will clearly be a contender. Further, Google is rumored to benefit substantially from increased mobile traffic from the iPhone available exclusive through AT&T Wireless.
It is unclear if the deal essentially cuts Yahoo! out of being a local search destination site for AT&T customers. In an environment where top portal and search brands are recipients of mobile usage, that seems unlikely. Regardless, it gives Yahoo! more opportunity to sell display and search advertising throughout the AT&T network. It is something that could have strong dividends as Yahoo! battles directly with Google and others. No doubt, retaining tight control of the carrier deck will allow AT&T to steer traffic accordingly.
It is of no small coincidence that last month, AT&T reworked corporate branding to reflect the company’s intended direction. What was once “AT&T Advertising & Publishing” is now being touted at “AT&T Advertising & Search.” The merger between Yellowpages.com and Ingenio, a $250 million transaction, confirms our belief that AT&T is moving the company toward a fully integrated cross-channel marketing company.
It also extends the reach of the Yahoo! portal to the old BellSouth territories recently integrated into AT&T, and extends Yahoo!’s content beyond the desktop to mobile as well — something that will be much more important over time.
According to paidContent, Yahoo! may see declines over $150 million to $200 million in revenue due to the deal’s restructuring. But there clearly is also plenty of upside if Yahoo!’s advertising is widely used, and mobile develops as strongly as anticipated.
We have speculated for some time that AT&T is a natural fit for Yahoo! in terms of an eventual merger or sale. While this news doesn’t sway us one way or another, we do believe these two companies are moving closer together and an eventual marriage of some type is more than a remote possibility.
(This post was co-written by Matthew Booth and Peter Krasilovsky.)