Yahoo And AOL Move In Together Under 'Oath,' Verizon's New Digital Arm

Apr 5, 2017
Originally published on April 5, 2017 8:21 am

There's a new brand on the Internet that's taking over some old ones — or at least old in Internet years. Yahoo and AOL are now under an umbrella company called Oath. The new brand has sparked more than a few jokes on Twitter and elsewhere.

One critic pointed out it sounded a lot like Oaf — and another asked if "Oof" was already taken. But with more than a billion customers, the combination has potential.

AOL CEO — soon to be Oath CEO — Tim Armstrong says consumers aren't really going to hear that name very much.

"The Oath brand is a brand that stays behind the scenes," he says. "The real brands that we're going to be promoting are things like Yahoo, Yahoo Finance, Yahoo Sports, TechCrunch, Huffington Post."

Oath, the umbrella under which Yahoo and AOL will live, is the result Verizon's $4.5 billion acquisition of Yahoo — which it will merge with its AOL operations. Armstrong says users of Yahoo products will be able to keep using them, but they're probably going to see a lot more cross-promotion of content and brands owned by Verizon.

Yahoo itself hasn't been able to really turn the popularity of its products into big money-makers. They'll try to change that under Oath and Verizon.

Susan Etlinger, an analyst at Altimeter, says that combining customer data from Yahoo, Verizon and AOL could make it all more appealing to advertisers.

"The big question in my mind is, what is it that Verizon is going to bring to the table from a data point of view that's going to enable them to patch this together into some kind of really useful ad targeting force?" Etlinger says.

The combined subscriber bases could position Verizon well as the third-biggest player in targeted advertising, behind Facebook and Google, says Jimit Arora, who leads IT services research for Everest Group. He adds that the rebranding no different than when Google's parent company became Alphabet.

Congress just eased Internet privacy regulations, which would allow Verizon to share and profit from a lot of the information it gets about Yahoo users. But that's a mixed bag, says Etlinger — because revelations about serious security breaches at Yahoo already have consumers on edge.

"I think they're going to have a huge burden of proof that they can be trusted with the kind of data that they are going to be using" she says.

Trust us, says AOL CEO Armstong — we've got your data and your back.

"From our standpoint, there's an investment that will be going into a much deeper level of security," at both AOL and Yahoo, he says. "We've already greenlit that investment."

Users will also be seeing changes in the companies' approach to their privacy. For example, they may have to change passwords more frequently, and there could be other levels security.

"[We'll have] a system that we use that allows consumers to understand how their individual actions affect the security and readiness of their accounts," Armstrong says.

The breaches that happened at Yahoo came under its current CEO, Marissa Mayer, who has been there for about four years. There has been a lot of speculation as to Mayer's future, but all Armstrong would say is that the new executive team probably will be announced in late June.

Meanwhile, he is going to be in charge of some old Internet brands, and he says he plans to infuse them with new life and content.

"If you come use our products and services, we will offer you the fountain of youth" — and Armstrong says that's an oath.

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

So there's a new brand on the Internet that is going to take over some of the old ones, I mean, I guess old in Internet years at least. Yahoo and AOL are now under an umbrella company called Oath. As NPR's Laura Sydell reports this new brand name has sparked more than a few jokes, but with more than a billion customers, there is potential here.

LAURA SYDELL, BYLINE: The tech press and the Twittersphere (ph) had some fun with the new name Oath - O-A-T-H. One critic pointed out it sounded a lot like oaf, and another asked if oof (ph) was already taken. But AOL CEO, soon-to-be-Oath CEO Tim Armstrong, says consumers aren't really going to hear that name very much.

TIM ARMSTRONG: The Oath brand is a brand that stays behind the scenes. The real brands that we're going to be promoting are things like Yahoo, Yahoo Finance, Yahoo Sports, TechCrunch, Huffington Post.

SYDELL: Oath is the umbrella under which Yahoo and AOL will live. It's the result of Verizon's $4.5 billion acquisition of Yahoo which is merging with its AOL operations. Armstrong says users of Yahoo products will be able to keep using them, but they're probably going to see a lot more cross-promotion of content and brands owned by Verizon.

ARMSTRONG: As a consumer, you'll be more aware of the brands that we own because they'll marketed aggressively on a global basis.

SYDELL: Yahoo itself hasn't been able to really turn the popularity of its products into big money makers. The question now is whether that can change under Oath and Verizon. Susan Etlinger, an analyst at Altimeter, says combining customer data from Yahoo, Verizon and AOL could make it more appealing to advertisers.

SUSAN ETLINGER: The big question in my mind is what is it that Verizon is going to bring to the table from a data point of view that's going to enable them to patch this together into some kind of really useful ad targeting force?

SYDELL: Congress just eased Internet privacy regulations. That would allow Verizon to share and profit from a lot of the information it gets about Yahoo users. But that is a mixed bag, says Etlinger, who spoke over Skype. She says revelations about a serious security breach at Yahoo already have consumers on edge.

ETLINGER: I think there's - they're going to have a huge burden of proof that they can be trusted with the kind of data that they are going to be using.

SYDELL: Trust us, says AOL CEO Armstrong, we've got your data and your back.

ARMSTRONG: From our standpoint, there's an investment that will be going into a much deeper level of security. And we've already greenlit that investment, and that - both at AOL is happening, as well as will be going into Yahoo.

SYDELL: And users will also be seeing changes in the company's approach to their privacy. For example, they may have to change passwords more frequently. And there could be new levels of security.

ARMSTRONG: Having a system that we use that allows consumers to understand, you know, how their individual actions, you know, affect the security and readiness of their accounts.

SYDELL: The breaches that happened at Yahoo came under its current CEO, Marissa Mayer, who's been there for four years. There's a lot of speculation as to Mayer's future. All Armstrong would say is that the new executive team will probably be announced late June. Meanwhile, Armstrong is going to be in charge of some old internet brands. He says he plans to infuse them with new life and new content.

ARMSTRONG: If you come use our products and services, we will offer you the fountain of youth.

SYDELL: Armstrong says that's an oath. Laura Sydell, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.