Kara Swisher

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Liveblogging Yahoo’s Second-Quarter Earnings Call: How Do You Solve a Problem Like Flat Revenue?

After announcing its second-quarter earnings this afternoon after the markets closed, Yahoo (YHOO) CEO Carol Bartz and CFO Tim Morse held the usual conference call.

The results: Net income and margins were up at the Silicon Valley Internet giant, while revenue was meh. Display advertising growth was up, while search ad revenue was down.

Revenue and worries about future direction turned out to be the questions of the day.

2:03 pm PT: While she touted the improved margins with a confident tone, a nice accomplishment, Bartz quickly pointed out the obvious on revenue weakness.

She blamed a combo of issues, such as not monetizing search-share improvements.

“How do we measure our business?” asked Bartz, in her financial soliloquy. Another laundry list of stuff, such as engagement, editorial expertise and scale.

Then it was off to the races with updates on Yahoo’s social, local, video and mobile improvements.

That would be things such as integration with social networking powerhouse Facebook and online gaming phenom Zynga, more video all over the site and other initiatives to spur consumer engagement.

Bartz’s faves are the “Bikini 101” videos, she said, which apparently get you ready for the summer season.

BoomTown last wore a bikini in 1974.

2:12 pm PT: Morse came on and started going over the numbers.

Yay on costs and margins. Not-so-yay on revenue growth.

You get the picture. Morse had some excuses, all of which seemed reasonable, including a pullback of advertisers in July.

More numbers on the savings from the Microsoft (MSFT) search and advertising alliance, tax issues, guidance, cash status and more.

I like listening to Morse, who always sounds super-competent. But he completely bores my assistant, Ed, just like other CFOs he is subjected to in earnings season, since I blast these calls on my computer’s speakers.

Sorry, Tim!

2:27 pm PT: Bartz was back and talking about display advertising and how Yahoo is working on all kinds of new schemes to improve advertiser experience, as well as to engage consumers more.

Onto search, which has long been Yahoo’s Achilles heel, no matter how Bartz spins it. Revenue per search is down and has been, which is a problem.

“As for search, we remain focused on growing our search business,” she said firmly. We’ll see about that after a year into the deal with Microsoft.

She touched on the controversy around contextual search being counted on comScore (SCOR) and dismissed it–although we will see how that turns out!

Then Bartz gave an update on the Microsoft alliance transition. Nothing new here, and the hope is that it will begin to take place by the end of the year, but only if it can be done with “quality.”

Bartz then touted Yahoo’s performance related to delivering information on the World Cup soccer, which she should as the company’s media arm did a bang-up job.

More on improvements in development and innovation, although it was a little light on deep examples.

Bartz summed up by again mentioning margin improvements, which was a good idea, and then moved onto Q&A.

2:38 pm PT: First question is about revenue lag, natch.

Bartz noted that customers’ marketing budgets are “easy to turn on and off.” The perils of the ad market! But, she said, she felt it was more of an overall market issues, rather than Yahoo-specific.

The next question was about page-view decline. Are these Wall Street analysts actually doing their job?

Morse answered that page views might not be all that anymore, since consumer use of Web technologies has changed.

“What we are trying to do is move toward a more holistic view,” he said.

But he admitted, “It is honestly a bit of a surprise.” Say what?!?

The next question was more on display advertising revenue drop-off and inquired about whether it impacted search.

Bartz said she thought it was because of those nagging on-off switches marketers can use!

The next question was about revenue pick-up on bucket tests of new system with Microsoft and, again, more on where the weakness in revenue is located.

“I will tell you we are pleased with it,” said Bartz coyly about the Microsoft test results.

As to revenue slowdown: No specific category and it was those big knob-turning customers.

More on cost-cutting and advertising revenue, which were essentially the same question over and over.

It is the right question, too.

At one point, Bartz talked about redefining advertiser expectations and how targeting was a better way to get to consumers.

Actually, it is pretty much about that old sales mantra of ABC: Always Be Closing!

More shuffling the papers about what was going on and what was coming next. Bartz noted that consumer confidence is “really weird now.”

Then there was a question about this “science, art and scale” motto that Yahoo has been using and calling SAS for short (internally, many move the letters around to make a naughty word).

The larger point, said Bartz, was that Yahoo is one of the new places that can deliver big results to advertisers in an unusual and engaging way.

True enough, which begs the question again: So what’s with these weak revenues? And, of course, what is Bartz going to do about it?