Amazon Man to Helm News Corp/NBCU Video Network

Could News Corporation and NBC Universal be taking cues from the likes of Whole Foods and JetBlue? “It’s all about the customer experience,” was the mantra this afternoon as the media firms’ top execs announced the hire of Amazon alum Jason Kilar as CEO of their upcoming joint Web video venture. For lack of an official name, “NewCo” is an ad-supported premium video distribution network announced by the two media giants in March, involving content and distribution partners such as AOL, Comcast, MSN, MySpace and Yahoo.

At first, it may have seemed odd to put an ex-Amazon man in charge of a big media project, until, during a press conference this afternoon, News Corp. President and COO Peter Chernin stressed the goals of the venture and its new CEO. On Kilar’s agenda: developing a “clean environment” for users, ensuring ease of use and “building recommendation engines,” things Amazon’s user interface have become synonymous with.

“There were a number of candidates both with great digital and technology backgrounds,” said Chernin. However, recognizing that content from News Corp., NBCU and various partners is already in place, the NewCo execs decided building a great user experience and interface is key to success. That recognition “kept pushing us towards people that already achieved that,” Chernin said.

The 36-year-old Kilar was at Amazon from 1997 to 2006, eventually helming its North American media businesses, handling marketing and distribution deals for its DVD, books, music and video categories. “I spent a lot of time in L.A. and working with the [film production] studios,” said Kilar, who set up deals for packaged product and streaming content distribution.

“He managed to convince all the studios to distribute through Amazon,” said Chernin, calling it no easy task.

Eventually Kilar shifted gears from high-powered Hollywood to the less-glamorous tech development side of the business, acting as SVP Worldwide Application Software at Amazon. He reported to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, and worked with technologists to develop applications for Amazon’s community areas, media storage and serving, product metadata and merchandising.

There appears to be no drop-dead launch date for the yet-to-be-named operation, originally intended to go live in September. “We’ll launch when we are prepared to launch with a world class product,” said Chernin. Later he added, “We don’t want this to be big media’s attempt at a digital business; we want this to be a standalone digital business.”

Kilar, who officially joins NewCo July 9, replaces the temporary head of the project, NBC Universal Chief Digital Officer George Kliavkoff. The new CEO will report to NewCo’s board of directors, including Chernin and Jeff Zucker, president and CEO of NBC Universal.

Thus far, more than 12 advertisers have agreed to run ads through NewCo’s network, including Cadbury Schweppes, Cisco, Esurance, Intel Corporation, General Motors and Royal Caribbean.

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