Vevo: Are we excited? Bono is.
The music industry finally got its version of Hulu on Tuesday night. Or, to be more accurate, sometime this morning, as the much-hyped launch of Vevo was intermittent and slow going until early this afternoon. But post-launch quirks are to be expected, and Vevo, whether it ultimately proves to be the game-changer that industry heroes have hyped it as, is long overdue.
YouTube has been the go-to source for music videos for a few years now, and the Google-owned site is loaded with official singles, rarities, fan mash-ups, cellphone live clips and any other music-related video one can dream up. If it isn't broke, why fix it? But YouTube, while being a virtual free bazaar of music-related material, is also loaded with dead ends, fake clips, misdirects and plenty of poorly shot videos.
Spearheaded by Universal Music Group, Sony has invested in Vevo, and it counts YouTube as a partner. It can certainly bring a little respectability to place, and much of Vevo's content has now been injected into YouTube. Search Lady Gaga, and YouTube brings you to a Vevo shell that holds the clip for "Bad Romance." But want to to see the official premiere for Mariah Carey's "H.A.T.E.U." or Mary J. Blige's "I Am"? You'll have to go to Vevo for that, and watch an advertisement (or, you know, do some digging on YouTube).
In terms of what Vevo ultimately means, one thing is certain. Do not listen to U2's Bono. Speaking at the flashy VIP party Tuesday night in New York, which featured performances from completely underexposed artists such as Lady Gaga and Adam Lambert, Bono's opening remarks were quoted by Billboard: "Friends, we are gathered here today to mourn the passing of the old model that was the music business."
Perhaps Bono has some inside information on what Vevo ultimately will become. In a quick summary, Vevo offers on-demand streaming of music content with advertisements. YouTube offers the same, without the ads, and more content.
Yet there's plenty about Vevo to like. The sound quality is superior, the videos, even though they're not currently available in HD, look great, and Vevo comes with some music-specific features. The ability to make a play list and save one's favorite videos for repeated viewing is handy, especially if one wants to use the computer as a sort of virtual jukebox and key up a number of clips. Links to Amazon and iTunes are convenient, and the promise of embedded lyrics is a great one.
Right now, while the site has a clean interface and all your major label favorites, it seems to have its foot firmly planted in the so-called old model, which would be ad-supported streaming. For the casual user -- and that's pretty much everyone who uses YouTube, really -- Vevo could prove something of an annoyance. Though not every video features an ad, plenty do, and load times, at least at launch, are far from the expedience of YouTube.
Ultimately, if Vevo is going to be a success, it's going to need content. Right now, it still lacks it. A major label-run portal rather than a licensed one always will face a challenge here, as it won't be an industry-encompassing site. By partnering with YouTube, Vevo largely found an end-run around this issue.
Yet YouTube works as a music discovery tool -- one can find a quick link to the latest Carrie Underwood track, or even the killer new Spoon single, for which a video does not even exist yet. It's a one-stop catch-all, and from a user standpoint, Vevo is now one more aspect of it, but it's not yet its own centerpiece site.
So what does it mean for viewers? When it comes to content from Universal, EMI and Sony -- Warner Music Group remains the lone holdout -- viewers will have to get used to pre-video ad roll. That likely won't be a deterrence, of course, but tacking a short McDonald's clip in front of the latest 50 Cent video doesn't exactly represent a new model. That seems like standard industry practice, and something most music fans, especially those who regularly used MTV.com, probably knew was coming.
Vevo also could use an easier integration with YouTube. As of today, one can simply spend a few seconds to search for the non-Vevo upload and avoid any advertisements. Long term, Vevo will have to stand out in YouTube searches. It is true that a short ad would many times be preferable to a lengthy hunt for a legit clip.
That might give Vevo an edge as a go-to site, once it beefs up its content, but it's going to need to build a relationship with independent labels. A search for Arcade Fire will have to do more soon than bring up a clip of Earth Wind & Fire (Vevo Chief Executive Rio Caraeff assures Billboard.biz that indie content is covered) if Vevo wants a life outside of YouTube.
Original content is one area Vevo can excel. Behind-the-scenes and exclusive access to artists is something Vevo should have in spades, and the aforementioned promise of subtitle-like lyrics in clips is an exciting one.
That being said, it would have been nice if the site, post-launch, would have had more original clips than a few from Wyclef Jean readily available. One reason previous major label-run online portals failed (see pressplay) was that the sites lacked the fan-targeted content of the so-called illegal peer-to-peer filing servers. Live cellphone uploads of concerts, or easy-to-find rarities, television performances and more are key. The officially released music represents just a fraction of what makes YouTube enticing.
To be sure, Vevo is a welcome addition, and it's about time the major labels recognized it's 2006 2009. Still, Vevo probably should have plotted a much quieter roll-out. No need to bring out all the VIPs and court the press when there are sure to be plenty of growing pains for the first few months. We hear it was a good party, but there's still work to be done.
-- Todd Martens