For the first time ever, Yahoo brought its Mobile Developer Conference to New York—talking up its plans to more firmly embrace mobile and trying to coax more app developers to work with its software and services.
The two-day conference started with a hackathon and then wrapped Wednesday, bringing out some 500 attendees from New York’s innovation scene. Speakers included local faces such as Reshma Saujani, founder and CEO of Girls Who Code, and Chad Evans, senior vice president of mobile with MLB Advanced Media, alongside Yahoo’s staff (see slideshow).
Getting outside developers interested in its software is one of several strategies the company has taken up in CEO Marissa Mayer’s ongoing effort to make Yahoo hip and relevant again. The campaign has included a spate of acquisitions, including Tumblr and Flurry, to beef up Yahoo’s ranks with different tech creators. Yahoo is also making a push to be a hub for digital media content.
The narrative Yahoo pitched at the conference leveraged the trend of more media content being consumed through (and drawing attention to) mobile devices. In some ways, the company both threw down the gauntlet and extended an olive branch to the incumbent media industry, offering to work with television broadcasters and cable operators.
Simon Khalaf, senior vice president of publishing products at Yahoo, led with a keynote about the increasing time spent by people on mobile devices, juxtaposed with the slow erosion of traditional television viewership. Khalaf joined Yahoo one year ago through its acquisition of mobile ad analytics company Flurry, where he served as CEO.
“Time spent is the ultimate metric for the media industry,” he said. “That’s what the TV industry goes for.” Khalaf said the average time spent per day by people in the U.S. on mobile devices grew from 162 minutes in 2014 to 220 minutes in 2015. “If you do the delta, that’s 58 minutes,” he said. “That’s like two sitcoms just added in one year.”
Messaging, social, and content such as video were big drivers of that increased attention, Khalaf said, which is making people more willing to open their wallets for access to content within apps. “We project that for 2015, payments for content will be more than [Internet] advertising,” he said. “This year it’s going to be $33 billion for in-app purchases of content, compared to $31 billion.”
He also announced a new in-app sharing feature for Tumblr, born from the app’s integration with the Flurry software development kit (SDK). It allows users to make content with any app they want, and then share it on Tumblr, Khalaf said. What makes this different from sharing on other social networks, he said, is the feature sends traffic back to the app the content was originally created with. So if someone sees content on Tumblr that they take an interest in, deep links or prompts would encourage them to then download the original app that was used to create the content.
For app developers, he said, this creates a two-way street between them and Tumblr. “You’ll get traffic and consumers,” Khalaf said. “You’re no longer contributing and not getting anything back.”
Tumblr CEO David Karp also took the stage, hosting a fireside chat with Wilson Kriegel, general manager with PicsArt, a mobile photo editing platform. PicsArt is trying to make it easier to edit and enhance images and digital artwork with handheld devices.
Karp talked a bit about Tumblr becoming part of the Yahoo family and how getting acquired spoke to plans he had for scaling up, which included nearly doubling the team and growing its audience. “That’s something we needed help with, stuff we needed to grow to support,” he said.
Based on his comments, some of the longer-term aspirations of Tumblr seem keyed to mobile, including hardware and not just software. “We should be able to do more than share link, share images,” Karp said. “That’s what we’re determined to do.” He did not elaborate on what that could mean.
The way consumers use mobile devices, and how advertising firms on Madison Avenue react to such trends, was the focus of a fireside chat that Lisa Utzschneider, Yahoo’s chief revenue officer, conducted with Travis Johnson, global president of Ansible, a mobile marketing and ad agency in New York.
There are two types of marketers in the industry these days, Johnson said—those who actively embrace mobile and those who are still unsure of how to approach this sector. That can mean an ad agency’s clients, or a savvy chief marketing officer, will have to lead the discussion on how best to get marketing in front of mobile users, he said.
Yahoo has conducted this type of conference before in San Francisco to reach out to developers, and its spread to New York follows a trend among large tech companies that have a presence here. Facebook, which also has offices in the city, held a session in June in Brooklyn to connect with app creators. In such cases, Yahoo and Facebook may be hoping to refuel their entrepreneurial spirit by connecting to developers and getting them to see how bigger companies and startups can be part of the same virtuous cycle.
Utzschneider said it was important for developers to recognize that marketers are shifting their budgets to pursue consumers who spend more and more time on devices—a trend the overall ecosystem can benefit from. “The greater monetization in mobile, the greater the monetization for all of you,” she said.