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Purple People-Eaters: Marissa Mayer's First CES Keynote

The Yahoo CEO was well-known at Google for meticulous preparation of her speeches, and I doubt this will be different. No Michael Bay, she!

I am here at the Las Vegas Theater to hear the word of Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer, who is delivering her very first keynote address at CES in Las Vegas.


Naturally, the place is amok with purple-clad staffers in purple Yahoo T-shirts, some with adorkable purple ski hats. Also, the stage is purple. And the lights are purple.

Also in attendance is every top Yahoo exec, including ad-sales head Ned Brody, M&A-in-chief Jackie Reses (who actually talked to me about my tweeting that I was going to steal her limo — progress!), product dude Mike Kerns, and Yahoo Mail comic Jeff Bonforte. You know they scrambled the jets for this one in Sunnyvale!

The gang’s all here, so we’re ready for Mayer, who is likely to give a flawless performance. She was well-known at Google for meticulous preparation of her speeches, and I doubt this will be different. No Michael Bay, she!

So what will she say? As I noted in a post about the speech yesterday:

Among the possible topics: Increased ability for marketers to buy ads — especially the aggressive new push of its Stream Ads — across Yahoo’s many formats (Web, mobile, tablets) to improve advertiser experience. For example, Mayer may show off some of these capabilities on its Tumblr property, which has been adding stream advertising and improved search since its $1.1 billion acquisition by Yahoo last May, as well as its more creative native ad offerings.

Also likely is a look-see at Mayer’s new content efforts, from media stars such as former New York Times tech reviewer David Pogue, who is building a new tech offering for Yahoo, and also TV news star Katie Couric. Only Britney Spears would keep me away from this event, so let’s go!

CEA head Gary Shapiro starts the show off, and then shows off a video from Yahoo about dreaming.


Then Mayer appears. She is wearing … drumroll … purple!


She almost immediately utters the word “mobile,” as I predicted she would, this morning on CNBC. Mobilemobilemobile. It works on so many levels for her and Yahoo, which has been buying up a lot of small mobile startups in her tenure.

And she announces yet another one: Aviate, an app organizer. Yahoo is starting to look like it should star in a new show called “Startup Hoarders.”

Mayer has U-turned the company into mobile, in order to make it more relevant. She has done a nice job on some of it, like the lovely Weather app. Mayer repeats the numbers: About 400 million monthly users on mobile.

Now, of course, she has to make some money off of it. Oh, that.

Mayer moves onto search, noting that Yahoo has 869 search partners. Search is a moneymaker, so the more the better here.

Then mail, which has gotten a lot of bad press of late, much of it deserved. She announces that 100 percent of it will now use SSL security, which is a good thing.

Next she is on to content. Mayer brings on — of course — Katie Couric. Star power! And it’s her birthday!

Couric’s a charmer, noting that she really wanted to spend her birthday with “1,700 of my closest friends.”

Then she makes a naughty joke about the old news business, when “harass” was two words! Get it? I shall not help those who do not. Who knew she was Henny Youngman!

“At times, accuracy has been the casualty of immediacy,” Couric says, quickly shifting into a serious-journalist tone. I am with you, Katie!

Mayer asks her what she will be doing, and Couric talks about what has previously been reported: Interviews! She is good at those, of course. Sorry, Sarah Palin, but she smoked you on that interview.

Now Mayer says “TLDR” — too long, didn’t read. Of course, she is going to bring out teen techie Nick D’Aloisio, from Yahoo’s Summly acquisition. He intros the Yahoo News Digest app, which looks like a turbocharged version of Summly, and a lot like Circa, another app.

It is a blend of tech and journalism, he says, as he demos it. “It feels very crisp and modern,” says D’Aloisio.

But he says it in a British accent, so it comes out mode-drin. Let it be said: I am a sucker for an accent.

Off goes Nick, and now Mayer intros Yahoo Digital magazines. Oh dear, she is going up against Flipboard, which just launched this kind of thing for its popular tablet and smartphone app. These seem to be fancier and very curated.

After this, out comes a very energetic Pogue, under a banner reading, “The Birth of Yahoo Tech,” with a scary volcano graphic.

He intros the word “normals,” as I reported yesterday that he would, using a graphic that actually says: Jesusland.

I am going to overlook this, but then he starts in on all of us tech blogs, giving us somewhat funny joke names. We are: Over/load! At least he had the slash right.

His point is that he is aiming at the normals, while we are a bunch of gearheads.

It’s a geek throw down! Dear Dave, meet Walt Mossberg, the pioneer who democratized tech reviews for just those people, and whose first line of his first column 20 years ago was: “Personal computers are just too hard to use, and it’s not your fault.”

Bygones, as Pogue then shows off the new Yahoo Tech site, which is a tiled kind of design with drop-downs. He lists a bunch of columnists, too, as well as an intent for reviewing Kickstarter products. Then he says he will launch the site “right now.”

“Let’s throw that switch,” he jokes, pushing a big red button, which is not actually a switch, nor the way any site goes up (trust me on this one). But: Ha-ha. Get it?

On to video, with mobile and emerging product head Adam Cahan. This is a cavalcade of Yahoo purple people, which is a good idea.

Cahan intros a new smart guide for Yahoo’s smart-TV efforts, which have been a long and winding road to nowhere, for the most part. I have a memory moment of Yahoo co-founder and former CEO Jerry Yang showing me something like this an eon ago, so it would be nice if Yahoo got it right today.

Then, a little fun: Mayer intros “Saturday Night Live” Weekend Update anchor Cecily Strong, who is brought onto the stage to do a live version of her act.

Boobs! Miley Cyrus! An underage-sex joke related to Summly teen! Hot-dog fetishes! Whaaaa?

Then, Kenan Thompson as the Rev. Al Sharpton. Inexplicable, but he is funny, and lands a good Apple Maps joke.

What happens in Vegas! Naughty Yahoo my favorite Yahoo. Daily habits, indeed!

Mayer is back with some news about Tumblr, which I reported she would have. Out comes its founder, David Karp.

He’s got a hipster man-boy vibe, as if he walked right out of an organic kombucha cafe in Bushwick. He seems to have a purplish hoodie. Check!

Suddenly, though he is well-known for his distaste of ads, Karp is talking about ads, announcing that Tumblr-sponsored ads will now be powered by Yahoo. He actually says: “Engagement-pricing options.” Someone in Brooklyn is weeping now.

Next is Scott Burke with a plethora of new ad offerings, as I said in a post yesterday that Yahoo also would do. (I feel like a psychic!) Yahoo Audience, Yahoo Native Ads, Yahoo Ad Manager, Yahoo Ad Exchange.

I will go into all this later, but it is essentially a clear message to advertisers: We don’t suck at ads anymore.

Let’s hope, as Yahoo ad revenue has continued to decline over Mayer’s tenure, even as those at rivals have surged. So it’s an important thing for Mayer to emphasize.

Now it is time to bring on the singers, which are part of all of these kinds of things at CES.

It’s John Legend — as I reported. I am psychic!

So here’s my next prediction: All this other flashy stuff aside — Couric, Pogue, “SNL” — Mayer has to double down on all things advertising, and the block-and-tackling of delivering marketers great audiences and experiences and products in an efficient and easy way.

If she can pull that off, as Legend is now singing: “Here comes the sun, and I say, it’s all right.”

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