Yahoo Buys Tumblr: Why Porn Won't Break The Deal

Analysis

 @ryanWneal
on May 20 2013 1:24 PM
Tumblr
Yahoo and Tumblr apps on a smartphone Reuters

The acquisition of Tumblr by Yahoo for $1.1 billion in cash has raised many questions. How will Yahoo integrate Tumblr into its media services like Yahoo News? Will Tumblr, a social microblogging site with a strong anti-advertising policy, be forced to turn purple and fill its pages with banner ads?

More interestingly: What will Yahoo do with the considerable amount of porn hosted on Tumblr pages?

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While Tumblr won’t give specific numbers on how much of its website is used for porn, a quick Google search will show that it is not an insignificant amount. Tumblr is even welcoming of porn in its community guidelines, simply requiring users to flag porn as “Not Suitable for Work,” or "NSFW," to “respect the choices of people in our community who would rather not see such content.” 

Tumblr does ask that users not use Tumblr’s Upload Video feature to host porn videos, but this seems to be more of an issue of bandwidth than anything else. Tumblr even suggests sites users can host their porn videos, saying that hosting these videos is simply too expensive.  

According to a blog post by Tumblr founder David Karp, Tumblr won’t be changing. And Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer also said, “Part of our strategy here is to let Tumblr be Tumblr.”

So if Yahoo is going to let the porn stay, will it hurt Tumblr’s potential as an advertising stream?

“No one wants to be associated with porn,” said Anwar Warner, founder of Warner Digital, a digital consulting group. “It’s seen as dirty, lascivious and unwholesome. Not even brands that push the envelope want that type of association.”

This might not matter, given the way Tumblr works. The site gives users tools to create simple blog pages, which anyone on the Internet can see. You don’t have to register with Tumblr to see content created on Tumblr, including the porn.

Users that do register with Tumblr can subscribe to blogs, and updates will show up on a dashboard that is similar to a Facebook or Twitter feed. Tumblr only advertises to these users and does so in a less disruptive manner. Instead of banner ads, Tumblr employs a “native advertising” strategy of recommending and highlighting sponsored blogs that appeal to a user’s content preferences.  

“I think the native advertising opportunities through Tumblr outweigh any potential hesitance brands may have,” Warner said.

This strategy means a brand that advertises with Tumblr won’t have to worry about their ad displaying against porn. The worst case scenario is that they’ll advertise in a user’s dashboard that includes content from a porn blog that they follow.

The problem may just work itself out anyway. Data shows that porn is becoming less popular on Tumblr. Four of top 10 Tumblr blogs hosted porn sites just a few years ago, and now there is only one porn site in Tumblr’s top 20.

"Overall, the percentage of this content is small compared to peer companies," Yahoo spokesperson Sara Norman said. "We will build out our targeting and community tools to allow users to flag content. That said, we plan to operate Tumblr as a separate site and business."

Of course, Yahoo could always decide to alter Tumblr’s rules to ban porn and erase adult content from the microblogging site. It probably wouldn’t lose much in terms of monetizable users, but it could endanger Tumblr’s image as a hip, cool and open communication medium. This would ruin the very reason Yahoo purchased it in the first place.

IBTimes reached out to Tumblr for a comment, but the company has not yet issued a response. We'll update this story as soon as we learn more.

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