Duo names CEO for new online-video unit

Three months after announcing a plan to form an online video venture, NBC and News Corp. have hired a CEO, tapping Amazon.com exec Jason Kilar to run the operation.

Kilar, who has worked at Amazon for nearly a decade, helped launch and run its homevid business and also led a number of its tech initiatives. In a call with reporters, he emphasized “customer experience” as a goal for the site, still sounding like an exec for Amazon.com.

The venture had been run on an interim basis by NBC Universal chief digital officer George Kliavkoff, but the parties had stressed that they wanted a layer of execs who don’t come from either of the congloms.

The hiring took longer than some had anticipated, and the recruitment of a vet from outside the content biz also took some observers by surprise.

But NBC U and News Corp. execs said Thursday that Kilar had been a top choice for the online video venture, which is code-named NewCo in the industry but has yet to be given an official name.

In addition to distributing through Yahoo, AOL and other partners, the venture will attempt to build traffic with its own portal. Execs on Thursday offered more clues as to the future of the venture.

The hiring of the retailing vet — along with comments from conglom execs — suggests the venture will have a stronger focus on consumers than had been originally thought. In a conference call with reporters, News Corp. chief operating officer Peter Chernin and NBC U topper Jeff Zucker dismissed concerns that the venture was veering away from an earlier emphasis on distributing content to other sites.

“I don’t think there’s any confusion or any inconsistency,” Chernin said. “We want to build a standalone site that at the same time has content distributed to multiple partners. I don’t think they’re mutually exclusive.”

The venture has been dubbed the “YouTube killer” in media circles, But its focus on professional content that will be aimed at a broad swath of customers with the help of a recommendation engine suggests it will also blend in elements of iTunes and Amazon.

Execs maintained that it will distinguish itself from other video sites because of Fox and NBC content. “There may be video sites popping up every 20 minutes,” Zucker said. “But there are no video sites popping up like this.”

They acknowledged, however, that it’s possible the site won’t launch until September, which had been an early target date for the venture and could launch later in 2007.

News comes the same week that News Corp.’s MySpace said it would be launching MySpace TV, its own site for Fox and other pro video.

Execs on Thursday also said that about 12 advertisers have come aboard, some as part of the NBC and Fox upfront sales. Much of NewCo will be ad-supported.

While negotiations are ongoing with other content companies, NBC U and News Corp. have yet to recruit outside nets and studios to join; Universal and Fox are currently the only studio contributors.

Chernin on Thursday said that with Kilar now aboard, NewCo will up its efforts to recruit large media partners. CBS and Viacom both decided against joining the venture as owners but have said they could eventually come on as content partners.

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