Now that Verizon has nailed down a deal to buy Yahoo's search and advertising business, it's starting to look a lot more like Google — and it might even have the tools to take a second stab at the payments industry.
Verizon signaled a desire to become a force in mobile payments when it sank millions into developing Softcard with telco partners AT&T and T-Mobile. Though the venture failed—and Google picked up the pieces—Verizon has a new opportunity in the assets it gets from its $4.8 billion deal for Yahoo.
Verizon will gain broad resources in Internet search, social media and advertising, the same commodities Google used to advance its payments agenda over the last several years. Indeed, many of Google's payments services got an early boost from being integrated with its mainstream consumer offerings — Google Checkout (a predecessor to Google Wallet) was integrated with search results, and Google Wallet remains a P-to-P option for Gmail users.
Verizon, the largest U.S. wireless carrier, already has more than 100 million customers for services like wireless calling and Internet access. Though impressive, this is well shy of the 1 billion users Yahoo claims to reach through its Web, email, search and media properties. Google or Facebook are even bigger, but Verizon predicts its global audience will expand to 2 billion users by 2020.
Yahoo CEO Marissa Meyer, who plans to stay aboard, hinted in a blog post that the new company will introduce more services to benefit Yahoo’s users, advertisers and partners. “Imagine the distribution challenges we will solve, the scale we will achieve, the products we will build,” Meyer wrote.
Together with AOL, which Verizon bought last year for $4.4 billion, Verizon gains ownership of 25 brands in categories including finance, news and sports. Yahoo also includes media brands as diverse as the blogging site Tumblr and photo-sharing site Flickr.
Neither Yahoo nor Verizon mentioned payments as one of the services on the road map, but observers have noted that Verizon is grasping for new sources of new revenue as its wireless business plateaus and its other operations are threatened by the rise of digital media.
And the demise of the Softcard venture frees up Verizon to embark on a payments operation specific to its own customers, much like Samsung has done with Samsung Pay.
But not all experts are convinced that Verizon and Yahoo would profit from renewing their push into the payments world.
“While I think Verizon could extend its value to small merchants through the Yahoo advertising presence, I do not believe the acquisition of Yahoo gives Verizon enough of the necessary pieces to become a payments provider,” said Gil Luria, managing director and head of technology research at Wedbush Securities.
Verizon spent considerable resources attempting to develop a mobile payments business with Softcard, and it’s hard to envision the company going down that road all over again, Luria said.
“I doubt Yahoo brings enough to the table to make Verizon want to resurrect [a payments] initiative,” Luria said.
Yahoo, which previously made an unsuccessful run at online bill-payment services, has not involved itself directly in payments for more than a decade, Luria noted. The company seemed to be going in that direction in 2012 when it hired former PayPal president Scott Thompson as CEO, but that plan fell through when Thompson left a few months later amid scrutiny of misstatements on his resume.
Verizon is not buying 100% of Yahoo’s holdings. Yahoo will keep its investments in China’s Alibaba Group and Japan’s Yahoo unit (whose majority owner is SoftBank Group). Yahoo is also retaining about 3,000 patents that could be worth as much as $1 billion that cover e-commerce, online advertising and Internet search. The surviving company will be renamed, Yahoo said.
The all-cash deal is set to close during the first quarter of 2017. Verizon and Yahoo did not immediately respond to requests for comment.