In the deal that refuses to die, Microsoft and Yahoo are reportedly in talks once again about joining forces in search advertising.
This time, it's not a merger or a Microsoft acquisition of Yahoo's search assets. Rather, Yahoo might take over Microsoft's display-advertising business, according to a report in The Wall Street Journal. Yahoo's stock rose 6.5 percent in early trading on the news.
According to the Journal, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer and Yahoo CEO Carol Bartz have discussed what a potential partnership might look like. A variety of ideas are being explored, but a full acquisition of Yahoo is reportedly not on the table.
"We have to take all these rumors with a grain of salt. We've heard all of this before. What's different this time is the personnel change at the top of Yahoo. That makes it possible for the two companies to talk and consider how they might work together in a less emotional way," said Greg Sterling, principal analyst at Sterling Market Intelligence. "In a way, it would be irresponsible for Carol Bartz not to have a conversation with Microsoft."
Targeting King Google
Yahoo is the leader in display advertising, and the Journal reports Microsoft may turn over some of its display-advertising operations to Yahoo as part of a larger collaboration that includes the overall search-advertising market.
It appears that the companies are looking for ways to leverage their combined strengths against rival Google. Microsoft has a small percentage of the search- and display-advertising markets, but has resources to use in a Google battle. Yahoo has seen a slight uptick in its market share and offers Microsoft the ability to reach a broader audience.
"It would make sense for Yahoo and Microsoft to form sort of a partnership because they are the number-two and number-three players in search advertising," Sterling said. "The issue is going to be how much of its search assets Yahoo is willing to give up to Microsoft. What Microsoft really wants is the reach that Yahoo can provide. Marketers are generally happy with the performance of [Microsoft] adCenter. The issue is the lack of volume that Microsoft offers comparatively."
Microsoft's Discovery Win
Sterling doesn't think Microsoft is going to give up its display business to Yahoo, either, at least not in large part. One reason is because Microsoft Advertising just inked a deal for simultaneous three-screen ad campaigns for the Discovery Channel's Deadliest Catch television series. The advertising campaign spans MSN, MSN Mobile, Windows Live Hotmail, Microsoft Live Search, and Xbox Live, and marks a major display-advertising win for Microsoft.
Ultimately, display advertising represents less than one-fifth of the $23.6 billion market for Internet advertising. But the Journal speculates that a display deal, in whatever form it might take, could open the door for a larger partnership.
"If there's enough financial incentive for Yahoo, the company might take some sort of a deal. But I don't think Yahoo is going to sell search or totally outsource it to Microsoft," Sterling said. "I am sure the companies are talking and exploring a range of scenarios. It's all sort of meaningless until something gets announced."