Interviewer: Esther Kezia Thorpe
Esther: What have you done to grow Yahoo Finance to be the biggest online finance publication this year?
Andy: We have this great background here in history really where we’ve been around for almost 20 years, and we’ve been really the go-to place to provide financial information and news by having this world class data. So people can look up stocks, and then aggregating content from partners like Bloomberg and Dow Jones, and Reuters etc.
But what I’ve really looked to do here over the past four and a half years that I’ve been here, is to really build out our original content, and to elevate the platform, elevate Yahoo Finance and to make it part of the conversation.
I’ve done that by trying to do breaking news, do newsmaker interviews, and to focus on social media off-network and try and be part of conversations that way as well.
And that’s worked as a growth strategy for business media, on platforms?
Absolutely. I mean, you can can’t ignore that at all at this point. I think there was actually some thinking here historically that was a little bit unhealthy, because we had this huge, what used to be called a portal, right? And people would just simply come to Yahoo back in the day, and there was still some legacy thinking along those lines.
But of course, we need to distribute our content, not only on Facebook and Twitter, but also LinkedIn, and Reddit and Instagram, and the places where our audience goes, and our new audiences go.
Do you find that there are platforms that perform better than others for financial news?
Oh, sure. No question about that. And I mentioned LinkedIn, that’s very important obviously for business people. And it’s really become a place where content is recognised increasingly.
Less so as you might expect, for instance, on Snap. It’s just not the place that our audience or even prospective audience necessarily thinks of going for business news.
So in practical terms, you’ve got quite a big team at Yahoo Finance. What’s it like actually heading up a team of that size producing that much content?
Well, it’s really gratifying. There’s a lot of people doing a lot of different things, so coordination is hugely important. The people who are running the front page of Yahoo Finance, both on desktop and mobile, are like air traffic controllers, they’re monitoring the markets real time, and trying to prioritise what’s important, trying to get out ahead of what’s going to happen during the day, but then responding real time to what’s going on, and then assigning stories to our team or putting partner stories up, and then moving back and forth between partner stories and our originals.
And then if the news warrants it, sending out alerts to our 70 million core users. There’s 70 million core monthly users here Yahoo Finance and 90 million if you include the properties that roll up to us here at Verizon Media Group. So, that’s hard.
Then at the same time, it’s the other end of the news spectrum. We have people working on enterprise stories, both in terms of text and video. And they’re doing things that would take the usual weeks and months.
And sort of in between, we’re running a live television-like network over the top, live video, linear programming of the financial markets. And so we’re going back and forth between the text reporters who are doing these stories, and then they’re going on air and reporting them. So it’s a lot of fun, and I think it’s an incredibly attractive environment.
We’ve had great success at bringing some incredible talent here. And I think a lot of that has to do with the fact that it is so new, digital first, digital only, and there’s a lot of experimentation, quite honestly, that goes on here. And that’s really exciting.
The lines between being a traditional publisher and being a broadcaster have almost completely gone with you then?
I think that’s right. People say that it’s important for journalists to be able to wear multiple hats today. And here, you almost pretty much have to, because everyone on our team either writes, or reports, or goes on camera, or produces video pieces, or works on podcasts, or edits stories, or works on the social media team.
Most people do a majority of those things, and love it. I mean, it’s just really exciting to be able to try your hand at all these things. Then what we’d like to do is to see how people work out and sort of play to their strengths. If people are particularly good at understanding how Twitter works, well, that’s where they’re going to end up.
And of course, we need to assign people to where we have needs, and we hire people for where we have needs of course as well. But there’s a certain amount of finding yourself here which is really, really cool.
You mentioned new technologies earlier. Are there any ways you’re using things like automation or AI alongside the journalists?
Well, what’s interesting about AI, because in a way we were sort of, had the original gangsters when it comes to understanding, you know, what’s going on in terms of big data, because we’re a legacy digital media property, right? Which sounds like a bit of a paradox, but it’s really true, because we’ve been around and we’ve garnered this massive audience. And so we’re able to look and see what trends are taking place amongst our audience in terms of, what tickers are they searching for?
We never use that data in any way outside of Yahoo Finance, in any way, shape, or form. And we’re very careful about using it in only an aggregate, and we use it for reporting, we don’t use it in terms of any other functionality. But we’ll say, ‘Oh, a lot of people are searching for GE stock, which surprisingly, they’re still doing.
And so that’s something that we report on air that people are looking, you know, these are the trending tickers that people are looking at today.
You’ve got a long history in traditional print magazine publishing and journalism. What attracted you to working in an environment like that where there’s so much going on in so many different forms?
Well, I think it was, coming here was really exciting, and I remember when Marissa Mayer and her team first reached out to me about coming here. And it just, it sounded like, frankly, a real breath of fresh air for me because, to be at a place which is digital first, and digital only.
Honestly, I’d spent a lot of time working in print where the business was declining, ad pages were declining, and boy, I just didn’t want to have to deal with that anymore.
But even more than that, just really trying to understand digital journalism, because I had done some of that at Time Inc, but it’s nothing like here. Working with real bread in the bone product people, and real people…real computer scientists in Silicon Valley in Sunnyvale at Yahoo Headquarters, people who really understand how the internet works, quite frankly.
And then marrying that with journalism and media here on this side of the coast, frankly, it’s just been really fascinating to watch these two worlds come together.
And of course, it’s still evolving. People ask what inning we’re in, and I’m like, the warm ups!? It’s just…every week we learn new things.
You’ve touched on it there, but business media is increasingly having to diversify its revenue streams to keep up with declining ad revenue. What’s your experience, both at Yahoo and more widely been of actually putting things like alternate revenue streams into practice?
Yeah, well, obviously, advertising is a very tough business, and what happens is that just people come up with amazing new ideas…
I mean, first of all, obviously, the print part is dying. And what happens on the digital side is it just becomes commoditised. When people come up with new ideas, they’ll come up with a new format for display, they’ll come up with a new format for programmatic, and they’re a hero for exactly six months, and then everyone else figures it out.
And of course, that’s true with native and branded, and all that kind of things as well. And so that’s why you’re seeing people really being thoughtful, I mean, about subscriptions, and paywall, and freemium.
We have to do more of that here. We have a new subscription product at Yahoo Finance, which is based primarily on incremental tools and metrics. It’s not so much focused on content, although it is a little bit and we want to do that increasingly. So subscription is obviously key.
And then revenue from live events, which is something I was very familiar with at Fortune when I worked there, when I was the editor there. That’s obviously a big part of that franchise, that’s really important as well.
To be able to understand how to have ticket sales and sponsorships be a part of the business mix, is something we’re going to be doing increasingly here, have been doing, and doing more of.
I suppose business media has an advantage when it comes to things like live events, because there’s always conferences and things going on in business, if there is value.
Yeah, there are a lot of conferences too these days, of course, and that’s something. So we have to really make sure that what we’re doing is differentiated because there really is a plethora, right.
We have this incredible scale. I mean, the thing that really differentiates Yahoo Finance is the technology and the scale. And if you put those two things together, we’re sort of in a category of one. That we are a digital native, digital first, digital only platform, and we’re the biggest.
So when you put those two things together, it really is a pretty interesting proposition. And we talk about that when we do live events. So in other words, we say, you’re going to be in a room in front of a couple hundred people who are business executives, yes. But then you’re going to be live streamed to, say, up to 9 million people, which is what our [DA views] are looking like right now. And that’s a really compelling and cool thing.
In fact, I mentioned that, I was going out on stage with the CEO of one of the biggest banks in the world, and he said, ‘How many people are going to be watching this?’ And I said, ‘Probably a million people!’ And he said, ‘Wow, I wish you hadn’t told me that!’ So it’s pretty awesome.
Of the 70 million that come to the site every month, those can’t all be high end business execs, so who else is listening and tuning in to this?
Oh, absolutely not. In fact, most of them aren’t. As I was saying the live audience here in New York City would be business executives. Most of the people who come to Yahoo Finance are investors, and people who want businesses news. They want data, and they want news about business.
I like to tell people that we really speak to American shareholders, to American investors. And that’s another difference, I think, between what we do and some of the other properties that, I think some of the other business news sites are really big on the coasts, big in New York, in the Bay Area, and we’re big there too.
But we’re also big in the flyover states, in the second tier cities. I think that there’s a lot of people have Yahoo Finance open on their desks at some point during the day, or checking stocks on their phone. Whether they are actual stockbrokers even sometimes, but mostly, they’re just ordinary Americans who want to see…check in on their financial well-being during the day.
We could do with a bit of that in the UK at the moment!
Oh, yeah, I know. Right! Well, and that’s interesting, because, obviously, Brexit is a story that, we’re covering it. It’s sort of interesting to see what kinds of stories resonate, because you might not think Brexit would be something that Americans are so interested in.
But as it turns out, our audience is, and whether they just see the politics link to what’s going on in America, or obviously they’re interested, and to an extent from a business perspective, but I think there’s curiosity.
And also a sense of, wow, this is similar to many things that are going on in this country that make people interested.
Leading on from that, there is a big crisis of trust in journalism at the moment. And there’s a lot of people certainly in this country, I don’t know about the US, that find it difficult to trust even business and finance news about what’s actually going to happen. Have you seen that spill over into what you’re doing at Yahoo, do people trust what you’re writing?
It’s very interesting that you asked that. So fake new, obviously that’s a huge topic, and we’re not sort of in the very crosshairs, so the way that…
I mean, numbers don’t lie, right?!
Yeah, exactly. Well, people try to make them lie but it’s harder! It’s much harder, but not in the same way, I guess I meant, say with regard to our colleagues at Yahoo News, and obviously at the New York Times and NBC, CBS and the news organisations in the UK as well.
But business news, a couple things. First of all, business news is adjacent to hard news. We do a tremendous amount of stories, as I just mentioned, on Brexit, and of course, on Donald Trump. I mean, it’s an economic story. And so it sort of melds and blends into that.
So we do have people who accuse us of having bias, we have people who say we’re left wing, and people who say we’re right wing, which of course, means I guess we’re doing a pretty good job!
The historical fake news and business news, of course, is people who spread false information about companies who are say short sellers, they say, ‘Oh, there’s poison in the milk. This company’s…this milk company, boy, you better watch out,’ and the stock drops and turns out it’s completely untrue.
So we’re always on the lookout for that. We’re always watching particularly the partner content that we have, as I said, we aggregate all this content.
I want to make really what I think is an important point. We aggregate material from not only those big companies that I mentioned, the Reuters and the Bloombergs and the Dow Joneses, but also dozens of smaller news organisations. And we vet them very carefully. And sometimes they make mistakes, we respond very quickly by saying, first you need to contact that news organisation, and if the story is wrong, we will take it down.
So my point is that, unlike some other places like Facebook, quite honestly, and Twitter, we consider ourselves 100% responsible for what’s on our platform. And so I think that’s a real important distinction.
What do you make of the accelerating pace of mergers and acquisitions in media? There’s been a lot the last couple of months, especially in business media, is this good for businesses in the future, or is it not a good sign?
Well, I think it really reflects just how much the business model is changing, and how the forms of distribution are changing, and how our understanding of what people want is changing. And I don’t think it’s going to end anytime soon.
I think that a lot of people have misconceptions about how easy it is perhaps even, to create a digital media company. Part of that is because there’s simply so much capital sloshing around in the world right now. So it has been…I mean, this is actually not so true in 2019, but up to this year, it was actually relatively easy if you had some sort of track record, to attract venture capital to build a digital media company.
And initially, you could scale pretty quickly, pretty easily, and the media itself would consider to you to be the latest shiny thing, so there’d be sort of glowing stories about you, and you’d grow, and then you could simply do some meetings with Facebook and Twitter and YouTube, and all of a sudden you’re off to the races.
Well, the problem is, is that…well there are many problems, I mean, first of all, as we’ve seen, there’s the fickleness when it comes to the social media giants, and Facebook and Google, and Twitter can be your friend one minute, and they’ll just change the algorithm and you’re dead, and we’ve certainly seen that.
And then also, I think that growth is limited as well. Some people think, ‘Well, I’ve grown, doubled this year, and now I’m up 80%, so I can just sort of extrapolate and keep going’. Well, you can’t, there’s a ceiling, to many businesses.
Also the world is awash in content, and so to be sustainably different is extremely difficult. What it really comes down to is actual talent, actually great reporting, and actually an organisation that has real structure, and bones, and values, and understands what it’s doing.
Yahoo’s had its own set of problems in that regard recently, I think 2016 was a bit rocky. Has that all settled down now?
We have had problems here. And I think they come in at least two forms. One, obviously has been hacks. I think that’s what you probably are referring to, data breaches. And obviously, that’s a huge issue. It’s been an issue with other large media companies, or large digital technology companies, I should say more specifically, not so much media companies, as well as a whole host of other kinds of companies.
That’s been difficult and tricky. It hasn’t come from our particular part of Yahoo. It’s not from Yahoo Finance, it’s more from other parts; Search and Mail most specifically, but still, it’s affected us, it’s affected our brand, and affected probably trust in what we’re doing. I won’t deny that.
And the other thing is just being a company that, as I think I said, is a little bit older, and sometimes, like any company, you can sort of get steeped in tradition, and legacy thinking. And so for instance, when it comes to thinking that people were just going to come to Yahoo, I think that has been a mistake. And so we figured out that we need to reach out to people and do things differently.
So I think that those are challenges that we’ve had here, and I’d like to think we’ve addressed them.
That actually leads really nicely into one of my last questions which is, where do you see the future of finance and business news actually going, and and how you making sure that Yahoo Finance is ready for that?
Well, obviously, one huge big answer is mobile. We’re really heavily heavily focused on that, our app has been growing really nicely, it’s just got super functionality, and it’s really great. And then we’re really keen on making sure that our programming is available on mobile.
So wherever you are, anywhere in the world, you can just ping on the app and get our live programming, you can get stock quotes, you can get news. And so that is really gratifying to be at the fore there.
Increasingly, we’re looking at other forms of distribution as well, which are not completely IoT, but getting there because we’re talking about watches, and we’re talking about the world of audio, when it comes to Alexa and Siri, and we’re talking about podcasts.
So wherever people are, we want to make financial news available to them from Yahoo Finance. That’s sort of our mandate.
We have to be a little bit careful, like we don’t want to send people alerts every five seconds, because obviously there’s fatigue there and you can do more damage than good. But we want people to be able to stay in touch, and we want to help them succeed and stay informed about their world.