Kara Swisher

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Exclusive: Yahoo Courts Former News Corp. Digital Exec Ross Levinsohn as U.S. Head

He’s baaaaaack.

Former Fox Interactive Media President Ross Levinsohn, that is, who is the top candidate to replace Hilary Schneider as Yahoo’s North American head, according to several sources close to the situation.

While the deal is not completely struck, sources said Levinsohn is very close to taking the job.

Sources added, if he does, he is likely to remain living in Los Angeles, where he has long been located. Yahoo has a large facility in Santa Monica.

The move is a bold one for Yahoo CEO Carol Bartz, who desperately needs to bring in major Internet talent to the company to shore up her worrisome inexperience in the space.

Yahoo has been rocked by management turmoil–especially in the media and advertising unit–and also troubling weakness in revenue growth and innovative spark.

Levinsohn, one of the more colorful of Web personalities, certainly has a spark.

Levinsohn is currently an investor at Fuse Capital, which funds digital media and communications start-ups.

But sources said he has been itching to get back at a big company with scale in the digital media business and has been interested in Yahoo for some months.

At Yahoo, presumably, he will have purview over what Schneider did (and perhaps more), including the Silicon Valley Internet giant’s powerful media properties and its large advertising sales force in the U.S..

It’s likely Yahoo will hire a major ad sales exec to work under Levinsohn, and sources said the company has been in contact with several prominent execs to fill the slot left open with the March departure of Joanne Bradford to Demand Media.

Besides Schneider, also among the recent departures in the unit Levinsohn would run: VP of Media Jimmy Pitaro, who went to Disney, and U.S. Audience head David Ko, who moved to social gaming phenom Zynga.

Until now, Levinsohn is best known for his stint running digital operations for News Corp.’s then FIM unit.

It was at FIM that he rose to prominence after he bought MySpace, the social networking site that was once the hottest property on the Web.

At the time, Levinsohn and other execs also struck a gigantically lucrative advertising search deal with Google that garnered MySpace huge revenues.

After leaving News Corp. after repeated clashes with MySpace Co-founder and CEO Chris DeWolfe, he partnered with former AOL CEO Jon Miller in another investment company, Velocity Capital.

Ironically, both Miller and Levinsohn were the top choice of billionaire shareholder activist Carl Icahn as the execs he wanted to run Yahoo when he was agitating for change there a few years back in the midst of the failed takeover attempt by Microsoft.

When reached today, Miller–who now is the Chief Digital Officer of News Corp.–declined to comment on his former associate’s job prospects.

But he said: “If Yahoo is so lucky to get Ross, it would be great, because he is one of few people who understands all media.”

Indeed, although Levinsohn is better known as a dealmaker and media exec than as a sales expert, although he did manage digital advertising properties at FIM.

Previous to FIM, Levinsohn ran Fox Sports Interactive Media. He has also worked at the AltaVista Network, an early search pioneer, CBS Sportsline and Time Warner’s pay cable giant HBO. In addition, according to his bio at Fuse.

He also worked at Saatchi and Saatchi and in sports management and marketing with ProServ and Lapin and Rose Communications.

Yahoo declined to comment about the possible appointment of Levinsohn.

(And let’s hope Yahoo–especially the hip-shooting Bartz–doesn’t announce his arrival by also unfairly kicking former execs in the media and advertising unit in the teeth, as has been cloddishly done already too many times.)

BoomTown has also contacted Levinsohn via email and phone and has not heard back from the typically voluble exec.

But you can enjoy his stylings here, in a video interview I did with him in 2007:


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— Kara Swisher and Walt Mossberg, in their farewell D post