Yahoo Goes Scorched Earth

What a day. I can’t say neither side is throwing punches any longer in the epic fight over what’s left of Yahoo. Microsoft and Yahoo are done, for the most part, with sternly worded letters.

Yesterday Yahoo made two announcements/leaks. First, that they were very close to agreeing to terms that would combine Yahoo and AOL as an alternative to the Microsoft deal. And second, that they will run, ahem, a two week test of Google Adsense on 3% of their Yahoo search results page, instead of their own ads.

Microsoft responded that the Google deal is a precursor to handing over de facto monopoly power of the search advertising space. And they threw their own curve ball as well: News Corp. has switched teams and is now in Microsoft’s camp.

The formal entry of AOL into the discussions suggests Time Warner wants to offload the asset soon. If a Microsoft/Yahoo deal goes through, the only realistic suitor for AOL is Google, and that gives them little negotiating leverage.

The News Corp news is more interesting. In a move reminiscent of the Italians switching sides in World War II, they’ve abandoned their Yahoo soul mate for a more compliant Microsoft. They put in a bid for Yahoo in February (more), which was reportedly countered just a couple of weeks ago. My guess is the counter offer wasn’t very interesting, so they switched sides. You gotta love News Corp., they’re always there for you when they need you.

But by far the most interesting news is the Yahoo/Google alliance. Industry insiders still question whether regulators would allow the deal, but Yahoo’s been whispering around Silicon Valley that a business partnership with Google, as opposed to a merger, would stand a much higher likelihood of getting approved.

What Is Yahoo’s Strategy – Scorched Earth, Or Knife To The Nose?

Yahoo has put costly severance plans in place to both retain employees and make themselves a less attractive acquisition candidate. But top talent has left anyway, and just about everyone at Yahoo seems to be looking for a job (even execs I’ve spoken with). Meanwhile, the Google deal shows they would rather give up the search marketing game, their biggest asset, than become part of Microsoft.

Their actions, which appear to be based on destroying their market value as a counter to the Microsoft bid, benefit neither their stockholders nor their employees. And by setting up Google as the only real option in search marketing, they are disrupting what little market balance and competition exists in that space today.

I can’t decide if nose knifing or scorched earth is the best way of describing what they’re doing, but I have to ask: If Yahoo “wins” this epic battle with Microsoft, will there be anything left at the end to celebrate over?

It’s time to end this thing before Yahoo ends itself. I don’t care if they throw AOL, MySpace, and half the rest of the Internet into the deal along with Yahoo. But the health of the Internet demands a counter balance to Google. Yahoo-Microsoft, given the current state of things, is the only reasonable outcome.