Online vid venture nabs CEO

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Former Amazon executive Jason Kilar has been named CEO of the NBC Universal/News Corp. joint online video venture set to launch this year, the companies said Thursday.

Beginning July 9, Kilar — who spent nearly a decade at Amazon — will head the still-unnamed Web initiative, which counts Yahoo Inc., Time Warner Inc.'s AOL, Microsoft Corp., CNet Networks and Comcast Corp. among its partners. He will report to the venture's board of directors, which includes News Corp. president and COO Peter Chernin and NBC Uni president and CEO Jeff Zucker.

With the premium content already in place, the search for a CEO was focused more on an individual who understands the user experience, Chernin said during a conference call with reporters.

"We don't want this to be big media's attempt at a digital business," Chernin said. "We want this to be a stand-alone business, and we think it's critical we have a leader that comes from that background."

Kilar began his career at the Walt Disney Co. in 1993 and started his tenure at Amazon in 1997, where he wrote the original business plan that helped transition the e-commerce giant from bookselling into VHS and DVD sales.

He served as GM and vp for the video unit and later was named vp and GM of Amazon's North American media businesses. Kilar later served as senior vp of the company's worldwide application software, reporting to CEO Jeff Bezos.

Along the way, he worked with many of the content companies that the NBCU-News Corp. venture is working with now or hopes to work with, like the movie studios. That made him an attractive candidate, Chernin said.

"He managed to convince the major movie studios to distribute on Amazon, which, trust me, is no easy task to achieve," he added.

Kilar agreed with Chernin that consumer experience is the "heart and soul" of the new business. He said this will be his biggest challenge and that he will have to work to keep the site fresh.

"Innovate and innovate and innovate," Kilar said. "It never ends."

Chernin, Zucker and Kilar shrugged off a reporter's question suggesting that the CEO search took as long as it did because prospective executives were scared off by Zucker and Chernin's high profiles. The venture was unveiled in March.

Zucker said that one reason the search took so long was because there were so many interested candidates. "Peter intimidates me a little," he joked, "but there is absolutely nothing to that at all."

Chernin agreed: "This is probably the single smoothest part of my life right now. Interactions with NBC could not be better."

Kilar said the fact that he'll work closely with Chernin and Zucker was a major reason why he took the job.

The venture will provide a centralized location for movies and TV shows from NBC Universal, News Corp. and other content owners along with showcasing video across different Web portals, such as AOL and Yahoo.

Although a September launch for the project has been reported, Chernin would not confirm a timetable. "September might happen," he said while also keeping mum on the venture's name. "It might not happen."

The project could provide an alternative to YouTube, which has come under scrutiny from some media conglomerates. In March, Viacom filed a $1 billion copyright infringement lawsuit against the video-sharing site, and last month, NBC Uni filed a friend of court brief in support of the conglomerate.

NBC Uni chief digital officer George Kliavkoff had been the interim CEO of the initiative since its inception.

"George Kliavkoff has done an excellent job and set us up so perfectly to hand over the reins to Jason," Zucker said. "We could not have gotten here without his stewardship."

Chernin also said the venture has "more than a dozen advertisers" who have signed up. He reiterated that the site is focused on premium content as opposed to user-generated and said News Corp. and NBC Uni are "working hard" at creating original content for the site.

Also Thursday, NBC Uni announced the beta launch of a viewer-made channel on its broadband comedy site, DotComedy.com. The channel will feature user-generated comedy content and allow consumers to embed this and original DotComedy content on blogs, profiles and personal Web sites.
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