Kara Swisher

Recent Posts by Kara Swisher

Former Bebo CEO and AOL Top Exec Shields and Shine's Murdoch to Form Interactive Content Start-Up


Former Bebo CEO Joanna Shields and Shine Group Chairman and CEO Elisabeth Murdoch have formed a content start-up to produce across media platforms, both online and offline, with a focus on social engagement, according to sources.

The new venture, which does not have a name, is being financially backed both by Shine and by Shields, who left AOL this summer after running its community and communications division.

Shields engineered the sale of social networking site Bebo to the Time Warner (TWX) online unit for $850 million in early 2008.

Sources said this new company, based in London, will invest, develop and partner to create a variety of content offerings that also incorporate interactive and social networking elements. It will also help the vast array of Shine content in interactive efforts.

Shields will be CEO of the start-up, which will operate under Shine, an independent and private television production company with programming in 24 countries.

In the U.S., for example, its Reveille unit is responsible for such shows as “Ugly Betty” and “The Biggest Loser.” (Both of which are BoomTown faves.)

Shine’s fast growth has been spearheaded by Murdoch, who is the daughter of News Corp. (NWS) head Rupert Murdoch.

But Elisabeth Murdoch has struck out on her own in forming Shine, which already has shown a strong interactive bent for a television company.

The combination of television and Web content is an arena that many are once again jumping into, aiming at creating branded interactive content, fueled by advertising.

Former NBC Universal exec Ben Silverman–who sold Reveille to Murdoch, in fact–has recently left his programming job at the television network to start a similar kind of company with longtime entertainment and Internet kingpin Barry Diller of IAC/InteractiveCorp (IACI).

And former ABC programming and Yahoo exec Lloyd Braun also runs a television and Internet production company with longtime Hollywood player Gail Berman, including recently creating the Wonderwall celebrity news site for Microsoft (MSFT).

In addition, Yahoo (YHOO) and a spate of small content start-ups, as well as big media companies, are all trying to figure out how to create and monetize content online in a multimedia effort that bridges all kinds of distribution vehicles and more deeply involves viewers.

Bebo was actually trying to do that too. Under Shields, it had been a pioneer in creating a variety of innovative online original content, including “KateModern” and “Sofia’s Diary.”

But new management at AOL, now headed by former Google (GOOG) exec Tim Armstrong, has sidelined Bebo to its new ventures division and is likely to try to sell it. Company execs at both Time Warner and AOL now say the purchase was a costly mistake.

That might be true, but it was clearly a financial coup for Shields–who has worked at both Google and RealNetworks (RNWK)–and Bebo investors.

And, given the track record of both Shields and Murdoch, it will be interesting to see what they come up with.

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I think the NSA has a job to do and we need the NSA. But as (physicist) Robert Oppenheimer said, “When you see something that is technically sweet, you go ahead and do it and argue about what to do about it only after you’ve had your technical success. That is the way it was with the atomic bomb.”

— Phil Zimmerman, PGP inventor and Silent Circle co-founder, in an interview with Om Malik