News Corp. and NBC Universal on Thursday named a little-known former executive of Amazon.com as head of its highly touted and well-financed online video joint venture.
Jason Kilar, who helped Amazon.com break into DVD sales in his decade with the online retailer, brings expertise in e-commerce and a passion for delivering a great user experience for video on the Web, his new employers say.
Marquee-name players in entertainment and technology steered clear of the job in part because of Hollywood’s pockmarked history with partnerships and the inherent difficulty of keeping the interests of the two giant media owners aligned, according to several people acquainted with the months-long search.
The prolonged search underscores the challenges that NBC and News Corp. face in launching a rival to Google Inc.'s popular online video site, YouTube, despite their sizable investment in the new venture of an estimated $100 million. Indeed, the new service, which was initially to debut this summer, might not meet its revised September launch date either.
“We are moving as quickly as we can,” said Peter Chernin, president and chief operating officer of News Corp. He added, “We’ll launch when we think we’re in a great position to do so.”
The venture was announced in March as the entertainment industry’s answer to YouTube, whose quirky amateur and semiprofessional videos attracted more than 48 million people in May, according to Nielsen/NetRatings NetView.
The NBC-News Corp. venture would bring together popular TV shows, such as “The Office” or “The Simpsons,” and deliver the full-length programs to places where people go online to watch video -- AOL, CNet, MSN, MySpace and Yahoo. It would also create a new site where people could watch the shows they missed the previous night.
The importance of this as yet unnamed online video service, which some have archly dubbed the “anti-Tube,” is one reason that Kilar emerged as the top candidate. The venture sought someone who could create the type of experience Amazon is known for -- easy-to-find products, user recommendations and fast checkout.
“Jason brings the right experience,” said Chernin, who said the service would bring together premium content and a vast distribution network.
Kilar, 36, spent nearly a decade at online bookseller Amazon, where he said his career had “two chapters.” As vice president and general manager overseeing Amazon’s books, music and DVDs in the U.S., Kilar said he worked with the studios to sell their physical and digital videos online. He later served as senior vice president of worldwide application software, where he reported directly to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos on facets of the online customer experience. He left the company in early 2006.
“Attracting someone of Jason’s background and talent, I think, is another sign of just how powerful this idea continues to be, and how excited Peter and I are that someone of his caliber is going to lead this venture going forward,” said Jeff Zucker, president and chief executive of NBC Universal.
Several other candidates with digital media experience reportedly were approached about the job, but Kilar was the only one offered the chief executive job.
“It’s like the NFL draft,” said Scott Ehrlich, CEO of digital media firm DigWorks. “They looked at the board and they took a flier on the best available athlete, regardless of the position.”
Kilar will hit the ground running when he joins the company July 9. The venture already has 120 people working on the project full or part time. The company has secured office space in the same West Los Angeles complex as Comcast Entertainment Group’s G4 Media Inc. It has also engaged a branding agency to come up with a name for the site.