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Analysis: For ABC News and Yahoo!, New Partnership Requires a Long-Term Investment

Fox News, The Huffington Post, Current TV, Gawker, Turner Sports, CBS and CBS News, Microsoft, Granite Broadcasting, CNN.com and ABC News–twice.

These are just some of the major media companies that have partnered with Yahoo! over the last 15 years. Many of the agreements have been small ones, and some of them have been significant, but almost all have quietly ended. Some of the deals–like the one with Current TV–were dead before ever getting off the ground.

Today, ABC News and Yahoo! announced that they are partnering once more.

The first time ABC News and Yahoo! partnered on content–way back in 2000–the ambitions seemed very familiar (see quotes at the bottom of the story), and the two companies teamed up again in 2005, with a focus on video.

Joe Ruffolo, senior VP of digital for ABC News, tells TVNewser that the big difference with today’s agreement is in its scope.

“It is just a lot more, to be quite honest. We had a video relationship with them where we were giving them certain links, and live streams of breaking news events. We will obviously continue to do that,” Ruffolo says. “The real difference in this is we will be doing much more on a story-by-story basis with them.

They will be getting more text, video, we will obviously be doing the original web series with them. Our lead anchors and talent will be doing blogs, it will be much more integrated with them, and see more of a presence of ABC News within Yahoo! News on a daily basis than you would before.”

Ruffolo also says that the deal is a “long-term arrangement” for the two companies, though he would not go into detail about the specifics. By inking a long-term deal, ABC can hopefully avoid some of the issues that plagued other Yahoo! partnerships.

ABC News president Ben Sherwood has been bullish on finding some sort of content partner for ABC News since taking over late last year. At the Television Critics Association press tour in January, Sherwood said as much, although a partnership with Bloomberg was what the critics had in mind at the time:

“If we can partner on the digital side or the cable side, we must do that,” Sherwood said at the time.

It sounds as though Sherwood and Yahoo! initiated conversations not long after TCA, if they were not already having them in January. Ruffolo joined ABC News from AOL in April, and immediately ABC and Yahoo! began discussing some details of a proposed agreement. Video–specifically original video–was a major part of it.

Ruffolo says that the two sites will remain independent, both editorially and in sales, though there will be close collaborations between teams, including having some Yahoo! staffers in ABC News bureaus, and ABC staffers in Yahoo!’s Santa Monica headquarters. There are not expected to be any redundancies in terms of staffing.

“Good Morning America” is the first ABC News program to get a dedicated site on Yahoo! Though Ruffolo says other ABC shows could follow suit if the concept works. “GMA” has to compete with the recently launched Today.com, which has a digital dominance even stronger than its the TV ratings dominance.

Given the history of the two organizations, it is too early to tell how big an impact the deal will have. Yahoo! is in a state of flux, with CEO Carol Bartz having been ousted last month. ABC has the backing of media juggernaut Disney, but the broadcast TV business continues to be shaky when compared to the relatively stable cable business, or the still-growing online media business.

This new deal is sort of like deja vu all over again for ABC News and Yahoo!, but the two sides seem to be pushing the partnership farther than before. In the short term, the quality quotient looks like it will remain high (George Stephanopoulos‘ interview with President Obama is streaming simultaneously on Yahoo! and ABCNews.com, with branding from both.) But the question becomes how will the content and the partnership look two or three years down the line.

In order for the deal to be a “Game Changer,” as “GMA” EP James Goldston tweeted this morning, the aftershocks of the deal need to be felt in the long-term. The two companies have enormous reach online and on TV, now they just need to take advantage of that reach, and execute accordingly.

Extra:

Compare these two quotes, one from the ABC/Yahoo! press release in 2000, the other from the press release today:

“This agreement with Yahoo! enables ABCNEWS.com to greatly increase its reach and introduce ourselves to a broader audience. It’s consistent with our objective of offering our superior content to as many people as possible. The ABC News brand is as valued online as it is on-air.”

“This relationship will give ABC News an unrivaled ability to reach across the Web, combining Yahoo!’s vast distribution and cutting-edge technology with our award-winning journalism.  For years, we’ve proudly proclaimed that more Americans get their news from ABC News than any other source,” ABC News person said.  “Going forward, we will greatly expand this leadership by building a connection with a whole new online audience.”

The top quote was from Bernard Gershon, ABCNews.com’s senior VP and GM at the time. Below it, a quote from ABC News president Ben Sherwood today. The similarities are clear, although it appears that the scope on the new deal is greater.

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