Microsoft, Yahoo Back On — or Not

It is a sad commentary on the state of affairs in Silicon Valley when Carl Icahn, a known corporate raider from the go-go 80s, is used as a lightening rod to bring two of technology’s major players, Yahoo and Microsoft, to the table to strike some sort of a deal. And there seems to be some sort of a transaction in the works. And that’s not necessarily a good idea.

Microsoft is considering and has raised with Yahoo! an alternative that would involve a transaction with Yahoo! but not an acquisition of all of Yahoo! Microsoft is not proposing to make a new bid to acquire all of Yahoo! at this time, but reserves the right to reconsider that alternative depending on future developments and discussions that may take place with Yahoo! or discussions with shareholders of Yahoo! or Microsoft or with other third parties. There of course can be no assurance that any transaction will result from these discussions.

As you might remember, Microsoft made a $31 a share bid for Yahoo, got spurned, and then raised the bid to $34 a share, only to see it rejected it again. At that point Microsoft walked. Many Yahoo shareholders weren’t cracking smiles when that happened, prompting Icahn to step in with his idea of a board. Ichan’s move to put a new board in isn’t all that bad: Yahoo needs to clean house, as I had said a long time before holier-than-thou Carl showed up.

The New York Times reports that there were talks that “center on a partnership or joint venture for search-related advertising” as the two companies find a way to beat Google. Kara Swisher says that Microsoft “wants most of all to grab Yahoo’s search ad business to become a credible No. 2 in the important sector.”

This is Microsoft, once proud company that would have gone to any length to win, and it is going to settle for second spot. What does it really say about Microsoft? Never mind, it is a rhetorical question.

The combination of Yahoo and Microsoft in the search business is not going to be a winning combination. Essentially Microsoft is in the market to buy eyeballs – ones that have been declining in numbers. Both Yahoo and Microsoft continue to lose market share to Google in the search market.

Just take a look at the April 2008 data for US searches from Hitwise. According to comScore data Google now outranks both Yahoo and Microsoft. So building a search-advertising business makes no sense. (Read Kevin Johnson, Microsoft’s President of Platforms & Services Division memo about Microsoft’s online effort.)

For Yahoo it might not be a bad idea, since the company doesn’t solely rely on search/search-based advertising to make money. Instead, a substantial chunk of its revenues come from (what I like to call) produced pages, email and other content related efforts. If Microsoft wants to pay up for that, that I guess is palatable defeat for Yang & Co.