Ross Levinsohn, appointed Sunday as interim CEO, doesn’t have to learn Yahoo — he’s spent the last 18 months immersed in it.
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And he doesn’t have to learn digital media — from helping to create online sports powerhouses at CBS Sportsline and Fox, to building a $1 billion-plus digital portfolio for Rupert Murdoch, to launching and investing companies through his own private equity fund, he’s covered the digital media waterfront and then some.
He’s Hollywood and Santa Monica but he speaks fluent Silicon Valley.
Most important, he knows Yahoo is a media company — and he knows how to sell it that way. Of all the things he found when he joined Yahoo in late 2010, the most disconcerting was how much the company was doing right and how very bad it was at making that count. Here’s how he put it during an interview with paidContent last year as he emerged from a quiet period:
“I spent six months digging into the company making sure I’m not crazy — and I’m not crazy.
“Yahoo is the premier digital company in the world and embracing that isn’t a hard thing to do. That’s just fact-based. Tell me what other type of media can sit with you and say ‘I’ve got the top 19 #1 or #2 newspapers, I’ve got the top 20 shows, I’ve got the 19 of the top 20 radio stations, 19 of the top 20 magazines’?
“Duh. But you have to fully embrace that. You can’t half-ass that.”
Last fall, he took the stage at paidContent Advertising to pitch the company. The interview came just days after Carol Bartz, who hired him to head media and ad sales for The Americas, was fired. At the time, he was considered a leading internal candidate for CEO. He talked about Yahoo’s need for “a little bravado, a little swagger”:
“Yahoo is a huge, mature, gigantic business. Some of that is overlooked right now. Businesses grow at different rates. We’re 16 years old and we’ve been on top for 15 years. It’s hard to maintain that. When you think of entertainment and gossip, you think of TMZ, but OMG is twice as big with 30 million users a month and still growing. But no-one knows that.”
Levinsohn’s biggest coup at News Corp. was acquiring MySpace from under Viacom’s nose for $580 million in 2005. In hindsight, given how MySpace panned out, perhaps it was anything but a coup — but, at the time, it was transformative, and as big a statement as News Corp. could make about being in the digital game.