Verizon breaks Oath

Less than two years after coming up with the name ‘Oath’ to encompass all its media properties, Verizon has sensibly concluded it’s a rubbish name.

As a result it’s being rebranded as Verizon Media Group, a much more prosaic, utilitarian name and more of a default description than a brand, but nonetheless better than Oath. We don’t know how much good money was thrown after bad in trying to polish this turd of a name, but Verizon at least deserves credit for not persisting with it indefinitely.

“I’m excited today to share that beginning January 8, 2019, Verizon Media Group will replace the Oath brand, representing our strong alignment as a core pillar of Verizon’s business,” wrote K. Guru Gowrappan, who replaced former AOL boss Tim Armstrong just ten days ago at the top of Oath. The immediate renaming of the group would appear to be a fairly symbolic act by Gowrappan and Armstrong is only hanging around until the end of the year.

The rest of Gowrappan’s post commenced with the standard ‘this just goes to show how well everything’s going’ corporate spin that it’s apparently compulsory to attach to any announcement. After that we got a list of all the specific things that have gone well at the artist formerly known as Oath, in case any doubt remained about how well things are going.

Most of those focused on Yahoo sub-brands, which must surely remain a work in progress. In basing its move into digital media on a couple of very faded internet brands – Yahoo and AOL – Verizon created a branding challenge for itself that it attempted to solve with Oath. Having acknowledged that mistake it wouldn’t be surprising to see further rebranding done within the Verizon Media Group.

Oath boss reportedly edging towards the exit

Tim Armstrong, the boss of Verizon’s media unit Oath, is reportedly discussing terms to exit the business.

The reasons behind the move are unclear for the moment, though, according to the Wall Street Journal, there have been internal disagreements on how to best utilise Verizon’s lofty position in the wireless world to aid the growth of Oath. What does seem to be a frustrating couple of years might be coming to a close for the man who spearheaded Verizon’s efforts to capture digital advertising revenues.

Armstrong entered the Verizon stronghold as a result of the telcos acquisition of AOL, where he was CEO, and since has overseen the merging of AOL and Yahoo to its current Oath livery. What was supposed to be a challenge to the Facebook and Google dominance of advertising revenues in North America has whimpered, with seemingly very little progress being made.

Over the first six month of 2018, Oath contributed roughly $4 billion to the Verizon coffers compared to the $44 billion generated by the wireless unit. According to data from eMarketer, Google accounts for 36.3% of the digital advertising revenues in North America, while Facebook collects 19.3%. Oath collects 2.7% in comparison.

One of the difficulties for the business seems to be a disagreement between Verizon and Oath executives on how to best monetize subscriber data. Sources have suggested Oath employees believe those in the wireless business are being too conservative when it comes to using the data to cross pollinate opportunities for the content and media business. Although there is an opportunity to make cash, the wireless executives are apparently worried about whether such activities would lead to increased churn.

This might well be the case, though some might wonder whether this point was raised prior to Verizon spending $9 billion on acquiring content businesses. The money changing hands is certainly not chump change, and it would be extremely worrying to think these purchases were made without thinking through the practicalities of how a media business would work.

At the time of writing, Verizon has refused to comment on the situation. The fact it has not outright denied the talks suggests there is an element of truth. Perhaps Armstrong is simply tired of dealing with incredibly risk-adverse executives, a perfect stereotype of the telco industry, and is keen to get back into the more adventurous media space.

Verizon spends billions on NFL rights to give Oath a boost

US telco Verizon has announced a new deal with the NFL – i.e. American Football league – to distribute games across its digital media network.

This appears to be an attempt to answer the oft-asked question: “What’s the point of dropping billions of dollars on a couple of internet dinosaurs?” Verizon, in its infinite wisdom, has focused its diversification efforts on the acquisition of AOL and Yahoo, which were kind of a big deal 20 years ago. It decided to call the digital media formed from them Oath earlier this year and has now decided to give it an injection of premium content.

“We’re making a commitment to fans for Verizon’s family of media properties to become the mobile destination for live sports,” said Lowell McAdam, Chairman and CEO of Verizon. “The NFL is a great partner for us and we are excited to take its premier content across a massive mobile scale so viewers can enjoy live football and other original NFL content where and how they want it. We believe that partnerships like this are a win for fans, but also for partners and advertisers looking for a mobile-first experience.”

“Verizon has been a key NFL partner, both in the distribution of games on NFL mobile and as a sponsor, since 2010 and we’re thrilled to be both extending and expanding our relationship with them,” said NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. “Our expanded partnership with Verizon is great for our fans.  Starting with the upcoming playoffs and for seasons to come, live NFL action directly on your mobile device – regardless of carrier – will give millions of fans additional ways to follow their favourite sport.”

As the quotes above touch upon, this deal marks the end of Verizon’s exclusivity, but it will now be able to offer the games to anyone via Yahoo sports and that sort of thing. They haven’t announced the numbers but reports have it between $1.5-2 billion for a five-year deal. At a time when the ROI of telco spending on premium content in coming under question this deal marks a distinct doubling down by Verizon.

Verizon now thinks all Yahoo accounts were affected by 2013 breach

Having finally completed its acquisition Verizon has been able to do a proper job of investigating the extent of the Yahoo data breach and the results are not good.

An announcement from its content division, which Verizon for some reason decided to call Oath, revealed that all of three billion Yahoo accounts in existence at the time of the 2013 data theft were affected. Prior to its acquisition by Verizon Yahoo had insisted that a maximum of one billion accounts had been affected, so that’s quite a bit difference.

It looks like Verizon brought in some third party cyber security and forensics experts, something it would have been reasonable to expect Yahoo to do prior to the acquisition, and they helped it come to this bleak conclusion. The company insists this is not a new security issue as password and financial information was not stolen, but the additional two billion accounts affected could be forgiven for taking these reassurances with a pinch of salt.

“Verizon is committed to the highest standards of accountability and transparency, and we proactively work to ensure the safety and security of our users and networks in an evolving landscape of online threats,” said Chandra McMahon, Chief Information Security Officer at Verizon. “Our investment in Yahoo is allowing that team to continue to take significant steps to enhance their security, as well as benefit from Verizon’s experience and resources.”

This leads us to question, once more, why Verizon didn’t just bail on the deal when it was clear how badly the breach had been managed by Yahoo, or at least get a much bigger reduction on the price. Not only might Verizon now be liable for compensation and/or legal recrimination, but it’s Oath division has taken a publicity hit almost as severe as the name itself. Surely whatever underlying value Yahoo might provide isn’t worth all this hassle and expense.