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Yahoo promotes executives to boost products

The company promotes Geoff Ralston, former senior vice president of network services, to the new position of chief product officer and expands the role of senior vice president Jim Brock.

Yahoo is shuffling its executives in hopes of realigning its product development efforts.

The company announced to its staff Monday that it promoted Geoff Ralston, former senior vice president of network services, to the new position of chief product officer. Ralston's primary role will be managing Yahoo's product development cycles. He will also oversee design and programming for Yahoo's home page and its My Yahoo personalization page.

Yahoo also expanded the role of senior vice president Jim Brock to include most of Ralston's former businesses, such as e-mail, instant messaging and online personals. Brock will add these products to his existing management of Yahoo's broadband relationships with SBC Communications and British Telecom.

Ralston and Brock will continue reporting to Yahoo chief operating officer Dan Rosensweig.

Ralston and Brock's appointments come amid other organizational changes at the company. Last month, Yahoo confirmed that it shuttered its enterprise solutions division and laid off an unspecified number of employees in three of its U.S. offices. Brock will now oversee the businesses that once comprised the enterprise solutions division.

Yahoo shifted these roles in an effort to "increase focus on product quality," according to a company spokeswoman.

Indeed, the company's CEO, Terry Semel, highlighted product development as his main priority for 2003. A good portion of Yahoo's product improvements came in the form of search, such as the launch of its product comparison guide and its refurbished search engine.

However, some of its more ambitious launches have stalled. Yahoo will pull the plug on its subscription-based streaming video service, Yahoo Platinum, due to low consumer interest. Video streams from Platinum will fold into Yahoo Plus, a bundled subscription package that has yet to launch.

Nevertheless, the businesses under Ralston and Brock are some of the more successful Yahoo areas. Since watching its revenues collapse from the advertising crash of 2001, Yahoo has tried to tap subscription revenues for its once universally free services. Since then, the company has touted the success of services such as paid e-mail, small business services and online personals, while striking revenue-sharing deals with SBC Communications and BT Group to offer co-branded digital subscriber line (DSL) access.

Revenue from these paid businesses has grown. At the end of September, Yahoo reported 38 percent growth from last year in this "fee" revenue, to $79.4 million. The company reported it had 4.2 million domestic paid subscribers, up from 3.5 million the previous quarter. More than half of these new subscribers came from its SBC partnership, which added 365,000 new subscribers last quarter. Yahoo gets a cut of every co-branded DSL bill per month and shares advertising and additional paid services revenue with SBC.