Yahoo's Levinsohn: Honestly, we're fine

@CNNMoneyTech October 17, 2011: 10:30 PM ET

SAN FRANCISCO (CNNMoney) -- Nothing to see here! That's the story from a top Yahoo executive, who faced tough questions about the troubled, CEO-less company at a tech conference on Monday.

Ross Levinsohn, Yahoo's executive vice president of the Americas, faced a grilling by moderator John Battelle at the Web 2.0 Summit in San Francisco.

Battelle joked about two speakers who dropped out of the conference last minute, saying, "the person I really didn't think was going to show up is Ross Levinsohn. But he is here, and the only difference is he asked for scotch instead of water."

Levinsohn has been named as a likely contender for the CEO position, which has been open since Carol Bartz was unceremoniously fired over the phone last month. Yahoo (YHOO, Fortune 500) chief financial officer Tim Morse is acting as interim CEO.

Levinsohn started the chat by talking about a Clinton Foundation concert that was livestreamed on Yahoo over the weekend. But Battelle didn't let that light chatter go on too long.

"OK, so I'm going to try to bridge that to the troubles that Yahoo is having," Battelle cut in. "How's it going at Yahoo right now?"

"It certainly has been an interesting ride for the last 11 months," Levinsohn said. He later added: "Honestly, it's fine. If you've done jobs like this over the years, you get sort of used to this kind of thing."

Levinsohn didn't explicitly deny that he is in the running for CEO, instead saying he would let the board focus on decisions about the company's direction.

Battelle's blunt reply: "Well, the board hasn't been super great about figuring that out."

Battelle then asked the question that's been posed to the company for years: What's Yahoo? He asked the same of then-CEO Bartz at Web 2.0 last year.

"I know you hate this question, but, what's Yahoo? Is your goal to be the premium content company on the Internet?" Batelle asked.

Yahoo's goal, Levinsohn said, is to "take the power of technology and [combine it] with the emotion of content. We personalize it for consumers. We run 13 million versions of our homepage every day."

Batelle asked how Yahoo "makes a decision about what to give to each kind of person. How do you choose what I see on the homepage versus anyone else?"

Yahoo doesn't watch any specific user's Internet activity, Levinsohn said, but it checks out aggregate data -- like what's popular on Twitter, hot search engine keywords and which stories readers are e-mailing most.

Yahoo is also focusing on "high-end video," Levinsohn said, adding that "premium content matters." Earlier this month, Yahoo announced a newsgathering partnership with ABC News that focuses heavily on original video.

"What was an experiment a few years ago, with Hulu, has now turned into a real business," Levinsohn said.

Yahoo's strategy will be put to the test Tuesday, when the company will report quarterly earnings after the close of trade. Last quarter, Yahoo's sales slipped 5% over the year to $1.08 billion, missing analyst estimates. To top of page

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