What Jon Miller Brings To News Corp. — And What He Needs To Do

Somehow it makes perfect sense that within weeks of the departure of Randy Falco from AOL (NYSE: TWX), the man he succeeded so unceremoniously as CEO will have a new job — not with *Yahoo*, *Microsoft* or any of the other options rumored while Jon Miller has played the exec version of The Dating Game, but a job few even suspected would exist. It’s not a done deal yet, but if all goes as planned, early this week Miller will be announced as the chief digital officer for News Corp (NYSE: NWS). reporting directly to Chairman and CEO Rupert Murdoch.

What that actually means is still a little murky and may stay that way long after Miller reports to work. For one thing, it relies on Murdoch’s own interpretation of the job and how willing he is to listen to Miller. It also relies on how much of Miller’s job truly is operational and how his strategic role plays out across News Corp.’s other digital properties. Much of his success with both will have to do with that first matter — Rupert Murdoch.

I can’t claim to have access to Miller or Murdoch’s to-do lists but I know that some people inside and outside News Corp. hope MySpace is at or near the top. That goes hand in hand with figuring out how Fox Interactive Media is resolved (blending Photobucket and IGN into MySpace perhaps, as Pali Research’s Rich Greenfield urges) but that’s a relatively small matter compared to personnel and product development issues at the massive social network that gave Murdoch his Web 2.0 chops. There’s also the upcoming expiration of the Google-MySpace guarantee at the end of the 2010 fiscal year.

Co-founders Chris DeWolfe and Tom Anderson are under contract through most of this year as CEO and president respectively. Outlasting two heads of FIM doesn’t mean their futures are assured at News Corp. (if they want to stay). Who will lead MySpace, which is making money where many of its competitors are not but is being outpaced by Facebook when it comes to growth?

But this all falls under the biggest “to do” — help Murdoch make sure that the billions invested in digital across News Corp. pay off.

Miller’s job: The operating units that make up Fox Interactive Media will report to him — MySpace, IGN, Photobucket, FIM Audience Network — but paidContent has learned that doesn’t include Fox Sports Interactive, which will go David Hill’s Fox Sports. Jamba will report to him but not Fox Mobile Entertainment or, it appears, Fox Mobile Studios. Also, as we reported this weekend, Peter Levinsohn’s post-FIM job as president of new media and digital distribution for Fox Filmed Entertainment appears to give him control over a very large and very valuable chunk of News Corp.’s content. (Unlike a number of other execs in the digital space across News Corp., I don’t expect Levinsohn to have even a dotted line to Miller.)

Why Miller?: Peter Chernin did a good job of explaining it to the LAT for a story the paper did when it looked like Miller might wind up at Yahoo: “By any measure, Jon is one of the most astute people about the Internet. He has really good judgment and a deep intellectual understanding of the Internet. In a world of a lot of flash, he’s a guy of real substance.”

Why Miller wants the job and what he brings to it: Miller has long had a fascination with the juncture between traditional media and new media. As much as he may have enjoyed his stint in the venture capital world as a founding partner in Velocity Interactive Group, it didn’t give him the chance for the kind of direct impact he can have as Murdoch’s top adviser on digital. Miller had some of that at AOL during his four years there, although that was more about transforming a subscription model based on dial-up access into an ad-supported broadband media company. He already knows he can work with a high-profile, strong-willed CEO — before AOL, he ran the USA Broadcasting group and then the internet side of USA Networks for Barry Diller.

He also had some other jobs that give him some insights into News Corp.: managing director of Nickelodeon International; head of Paramount’s Comedy Channel in London; and five years as VP of programming and NBA Entertainment at the National Basketball Association.

Ross Levinsohn, his partner at Velocity and the first head of FIM, described the potential job like this on his own blog: “[It’s] one of only a small handful of jobs in Digital Media that touches every corner of the globe, within News Corp. It