Do You Want Your Vevo? - InformationWeek

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Commentary
12/8/2009
06:31 PM
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Do You Want Your Vevo?

Vevo, a presumed successor to MTV, debuts today to much less fanfare than its progenitor, what with video having killed the radio star over 25 years ago. Do you think the world needs a for-profit web site that plays music videos?

Vevo, a presumed successor to MTV, debuts today to much less fanfare than its progenitor, what with video having killed the radio star over 25 years ago. Do you think the world needs a for-profit web site that plays music videos?MTV was a stroke of brilliance because it repurposed the promotional videos that record labels had been creating to showcase talent (and playing for radio DJs and club owners) and used it to fill up a nascent distribution funnel called cable television. It didn't pay for it, as far as I know, so it was less a brand about new technology or the invention of a new art form than it was an example of an old shortcut to business success: namely, the "pay nothing, make something" model that gives today's publishers sleepless nights.

It was YouTube's grandpa.

And it was cool. I remember being blown away by the experience of watching music instead of merely listening to it, as it amounted to a ersatz live concert experience (like Britney Spears today, seeing artists lip sync to their songs is a step somewhat beyond hearing the melodies).

Vevo's management thinks there's still a huge appetite for the stuff, citing a stat that music videos accounted for more than half of YouTube's most viewed clips of all time, and that videos from its participating record labels have been seen about 15 billion times.

"What we're really doing is taking back control of everything," said UMG's chairman and CEO in a recent interview. This comes after a quarter century of mostly giving it away for free.

I say good luck with that.

While consumers certainly enjoyed and remember seminal videos from the Buggles or Michael Jackson, the ugly reality is that most rock videos have always been aggressively bad or just plain forgettable (or both). Musicians aren't actors (see the Jonas Brothers on Disney for details) and record labels can't script movies any more than they can map the human genome.

So Vevo could be considered a re-do on the album concept: bury a "hit" in a package of 10 or so songs that stink, and sell it...in this case, to advertisers instead of listeners. Or maybe it'll dispense singles with ad rates based on popularity in an Adwords kind of model. And will this mean the videos will no longer appear on other sites? It's working for Hulu, isn't it, though YouTube is already promoting Vevo in one of those complex frenemies partnership deals that require a VENN diagram to explain.

So maybe the idea has legs. I certainly don't begrudge the industry wanting to monetize the stuff it makes.

But I would have been more impressed had the industry announced a revolutionary new way to use video to forge new relationships with fans. Now we've got a web channel dedicated to playing the videos the corporate dogs and advertisers want to show to us.

Sounds familiar, doesn't it? I fear that Vevo's plan depends on continued consumer interest in a 25 year-old sales promotion tactic.

Jonathan Salem Baskin is a global brand strategist, writes the Dim Bulb blog, and is the author of Bright Lights & Dim Bulbs.

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