Verizon CFO: Yahoo M&A Talks ‘Premature’

If Verizon has any interest in jumping into the rumored sweepstakes for Yahoo’s Internet business, its CFO is keeping those plans pretty close to the vest.

“Yahoo? Who’s that?” Fran Shammo, Verizon’s CFO and EVP said in a joking response to  question about the M&A scuttlebutt from UBS analyst John Hodulik Monday during the firm’s Global Media and Communications Conference. “I think it’s way too premature to talk about Yahoo…their Board and investors have not decided what they're going to do with that asset. I think right now they are trying to figure out exactly what they are going to do.”

The question came up because The Wall Street Journal reported last week that the Yahoo board  is meeting to consider shedding its Internet properties.

But Shammo said Verizon would be willing to look at those assets to see if there’s a “strategic fit and it makes sense for our shareholders” and get a good return value out of it. “But at this point it’s way too premature to talk about that one,” he repeated.

Still, Verizon, through its recent acquisition of AOL,  has demonstrated that it has an appetite for deals that involve other large, Internet-facing businesses.

Shammo also said it’s too early to discuss the early results involving Go90, Verizon’s new “mobile-first” OTT video offering that launched on October 1. 

“We really just started to advertise it in more mass media here starting Black Friday, so it’s really early stages here,” he said.

But Shammo did offer up some things that surprised and disappointed the company in the early going.

The surprise is that go90 has access to about 10,000 titles, he said, but acknowledged that the service had some issues with its search engine in the early going.

It “was maybe a disappointment that we didn't go out with the right search engine in the beginning. But now we've fixed that,” he said, noting that go90’s clipping and sharing feature “is just starting to take off.”

Shammo said he anticipates that Verizon will release some numbers around go90 next year. “But it is still in its infancy stage. We're still working through some early startup issues. But right now we're pretty pleased with what we're seeing.”

He also expects go90 to start monetizing on the advertising front using AOL’s platform next year.

Shammo also outlined a set of monetization models that will come into play for go90, including sponsored data – Verizon Wireless subs, for example, will get the data for free to stream ad-supported video. But Verizon, he added,  will tread carefully into that arena “because that opens up net neutrality issues.”

Go90’s also looking into new types of premium content and some video that is bought by viewers on a  pay-per-view basis and delivered using bandwidth-friendly LTE multicast technology.

Shammo was also asked about Verizon’s interest in using LTE-Unlicensed technology, which  is mired in controversy over concerns by cable operators and others that LTE-U will trample on WiFi.

Shammo said Verizon has not yet deployed LTE-U, but does not foresee any issues. “There is a lot of work being done at the FCC. We're helping to do trials with the FCC to put down some of the claims that LTE unlicensed will interfere with WiFi, which is absolutely not true,” Shammo said. “It’s actually complementary to WiFi, so we're doing trials with the FCC to prove that out."