NPR Grabs Vet, Signals Digital Focus

Commercial media vet Vivian Schiller could be in for a decidedly less advertiser-driven environment in her new role with National Public Radio. The current SVP and GM of was named NPR’s new president and CEO yesterday. The hire indicates NPR’s increased focus on digital media.

At this point, NPR wouldn’t go into detail about future plans with Schiller at the helm. However, NPR board members suggested she was chosen in part because of her ability to steer the not-for-profit membership organization amid shifting media waters.

“Vivian understands the importance of radio as the foundational strength of NPR, and has the right skills and strengths to successfully navigate the company through a multiplatform world where the traditional broadcast business and content businesses on the Internet are central to long-term success,” noted NPR Board Member Carol Cartwright in an NPR statement.

Schiller will replace Dennis Haarsager, who has served as interim CEO since former chief Ken Stern left after a 10-year stint with NPR. Haarsager was chairman of NPR’s board at the time he took over as CEO. When naming Haarsager interim CEO, NPR called him “an industry leader in emerging and digital media.”

While Schiller has been involved with one of the top U.S. online news properties at, receives a far smaller audience. According to comScore, garnered 13 million unique visitors in October 2008, while attracted just around 1.9 million. However, NPR’s site audience is growing rapidly. Compared to a 5 percent rise in users between October 2007 and last month, the number of unique visitors to grew 59 percent in that time.

New York Times Company SVP Corporate Communications Catherine Mathis told ClickZ News the firm is “very sorry to be losing” Schiller, adding, “This gives us ample time to develop a plan to take forward into 2009.”

Along with the newspaper industry, terrestrial radio firms are recognizing the importance of digital in their struggles to survive as people gravitate away from traditional radio. Left-leaning talk radio firm Air America Media, for instance, recently hired a new chief digital officer to guide the company towards digital relevance, following bankruptcy in 2006.

Schiller appears to have had a primarily traditional media background until recently. She has managed daily operations of since 2006, reporting to SVP for digital operations Martin Nisenholtz. She joined The New York Times Company in 2002 as SVP and GM for the Discovery Times Channel, and in ’05 became SVP Television and Video for The New York Times and EVP and GM for the Discovery Times Channel. She served as EVP at CNN before joining The Times.

Schiller will start with NPR January 5. Her last day with the Times will be December 1.

Though NPR does offer sponsorships for digital content on its Web site and in podcasts, Schiller’s new digs are decidedly less commercially-oriented than the for-profit

Since Schiller took on the digital role at, the site has introduced a variety of new ad offerings. Last year, the site launched a Video Lounge section dedicated to long form sponsored video content. FedEx was the first brand to feature its sponsored videos there. also unveiled a self-serve ad system enabling small and local business owners to create and manage CPM-based display ad campaigns on the site.

More recently, formed a deal with LinkedIn allowing the newspaper site to target the business network’s members with ads tailored to their professional profiles.

UPDATE: This story has been updated to reflect comments provided by The New York Times Company following original publication.

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