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AT&T and Chernin's Otter Media Plucks Talent From YouTube and American Airlines

Tom Pickett, fresh from a top content job at YouTube, will handle subscription services for the joint venture. Virasb Vahidi will run the whole thing.

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Peter Kafka covers media and technology, and their intersection, at Vox. Many of his stories can be found in his Kafka on Media newsletter, and he also hosts the Recode Media podcast.

Otter Media, the Web video venture created by AT&T and the Chernin Group, has been collecting assets for a bit. Now it has some executives, too.

Virasb Vahidi, a former AT&T executive who most recently served as American Airlines’ chief commercial officer, will be Otter Media’s CEO. And Tom Pickett, who until this month was one of YouTube’s top content executives, will run a group within Otter Media focused on niche video subscription services.

The hires give some shape to the joint venture, which AT&T has said it will back with at least $500 million in funding. For now, at least, it has two different arms. Pickett’s group includes Web video services like Crunchyroll, the Japanese animation service, and CreativeBug, an instructional service for crafters. And Otter Media is also operating Fullscreen, the YouTube network it acquired earlier this month; Fullscreen CEO and founder George Strompolos continues to run that company, which has plans to launch its own subscription service. None of the services will be exclusive to AT&T’s customer base.

You might have expected Peter Chernin, the former News Corp. executive who has become a media investor and movie maker, to run Otter Media himself, but he says he will be very hands-on in his role as executive chairman. Meanwhile, Chernin says, Vahidi is a “world-class consumer experience executive,” and Pickett’s YouTube experience makes him an obvious fit.

It’s still possible that Otter Media will morph a bit over time. In the past, Chernin has looked at very big Web properties, including Hulu and Vevo, and he says Otter Media might still look at deals that size. “But we’re not going to overpay for things, nor are we going to buy things just to buy things,” Chernin said.

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