Yahoo Retreats from Hollywood

Two years after he left, the ghost of TV executive Lloyd Braun still haunts Yahoo. Which is why a report of lost perks in Yahoo's L.A. office turned into an evisceration of the ex-exec.

The Los Angeles Times carried a report about lost perks in Santa Monica, the home of the Yahoo Media Group: no more reserved parking for executives; no more fruit, bagels, and muffins; no more coffee cards (just brew-your-own Starbucks). But the best part wasn't the new cutbacks; it was the old dish on Braun's supposed excesses.

Never mind that most of the juicy gossip still told about Braun — an umbrella stolen from the employee store! a request for a corporate jet, turned down! a lavish office with its own patio — may not be true.

Braun, who joined Yahoo in 2004 with the express mission of bringing some Hollywood flair to its media operations, came to represent everything wrong about the company under ex-CEO Terry Semel. But the early parts of his career there were spent just organizing Yahoo's media properties, like Yahoo News, Finance, and Sports, into a single group. Along the way, he rapidly ran against resistance from the Silicon Valley's engineer-centric culture. When Valleywag launched in early 2006, Braun's departure seemed imminent; it ended up taking most of the year.

The infighting became legendary — like the time Yahoo's homepage producers, who then reported to rival executive Jeff Weiner, didn't bother to link to expansive Oscar coverage produced by Braun's group. Even Braun's facial tics became fodder for speculation.

So what was Braunism, this ideology that requires such ritual denouncements? Chiefly, it was the notion that Yahoo should become some kind of newfangled movie studio, producing original videos to distribute to its hundreds of millions of users. (One of Braun's ideas, really: a newscast with puppets. It was not greenlighted.) The production efforts proved expensive, and nothing Braun launched attracted a lasting audience. Meanwhile, Google was making a mint by merely indexing other people's content and hosting blogs and videos created by users.

But the strategy was Semel's as much as it was Braun's. So why do Yahoos pick on Braun? As a TV producer, he ended up as a recurring joke in Seinfeld, a show he oversaw. And his colorful malapropisms make him easy to caricature. He makes a good story. Which is why, even now, he comes up in stories about Yahoo mending its ways.