Yahoo to Showcase Other Brands in Hopes of Bolstering Its Own

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Coming off a year in which it was overshadowed by several Internet rivals, Yahoo Inc. is piggybacking on some of the entertainment industry’s leading brands in its latest attempt to bolster its own brand.

The “Brand Universe” initiative, unveiled at a media luncheon in Sunnyvale earlier this week, will showcase a pop-culture potpourri of TV shows, movies, video games and celebrities on 100 different Web sites that Yahoo plans to create later this year.

Each of the new sites will revolve around one of the entertainment brands tabbed by Yahoo for star treatment.

The sites will pull together an array of photos, message board discussions, blogs and news stories focused on each featured brand, with Yahoo pulling the information from its own Web pages as well as other Internet destinations.

Yahoo has picked out seven brands so far: Nintendo’s Wii video game console; a pair of video games, “The Sims” and “Halo”; a pair of TV television series, “Lost” and “The Office”; and two multimedia franchises, “Harry Potter” and the Transformers. The remaining brands will be identified by the end of February, according to Vince Broady, the Yahoo executive overseeing Brand Universe.

The Wii site is already up and running. It was launched without fanfare last fall, drawing 1.2 million visitors in November, according to Vince Broady, the Yahoo executive overseeing the initiative. None of Brand Universe’s other sites are operating yet.

Yahoo won’t disclose how it is picking the featured brands except to say that a spot in Brand Universe can’t be bought. But Yahoo does plan to share traffic and behavioral data with the featured companies and celebrities in an effort to please potential advertisers.

“We are totally open to driving a result that makes a partner want to work with us,” Mr. Broady said.

The branding promotion comes at a time when Yahoo has lost some of its luster on Wall Street and the Web.

Investors became increasingly frustrated with Yahoo last year as its earnings growth fell further behind online search leader Google Inc., provoking a December shake-up that included the departure of Lloyd Braun — the executive who formerly ran the media group behind Brand Universe.

Meanwhile, rapidly growing social networking sites such as MySpace.com and Facebook.com have been luring more teenagers and young adults, threatening Yahoo’s stature as the most visited Web site in the United States. Feeling the heat, Yahoo tried to buy Facebook last summer, only to be rebuffed.

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