review of vevo

Posted on December 18, 2009

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this one is from paidcontent. as vevo is limited to US only, i cant see it. only read the review 😦

Ty Ahmad-Taylor is the founder and CEO of FanFeedr, a real-time personalized sports feed. Previously he was SVP of Strategy and Product Development at Viacom (NYSE: VIA) and, before that, Comcast.

Vevo, the music video website backed by Universal and Sony-BMG, launched last week with much fanfare. It does a good job of providing access to roughly half of the music videos available in the U.S., but that “half” is part of their problem. The other part is that the service is only available in the U.S.

There’s another issue, too: The real product isn’t Vevo—it’s the economic relationship with YouTube that allows Universal and Sony/BMG to sell pre-roll in both the Vevo and YouTube environments at market-supported CPMs, with Vevo branding in both locations. And it’s not at all clear that pre-roll in video sells well.

The site is the latest in a long line of media-tech hybrid launches that collectively don’t have a great track record. Generally speaking, media firms have troubles with technology platforms (with the exception of Major League Baseball Advanced Media and Hulu), and technology firms don’t do the best job with media plays (examples too numerous to cite).

When I was at Viacom, the last thing that I worked on was MTVmusic.com, a precursor to the current Vevo site and one of many sites dedicated to showcasing music videos with a social layer on top of it. YouTube is already the leader in the space, with MySpace Music, Yahoo (NSDQ: YHOO) Music, AOL (NYSE: AOL) Music and others also playing a role.

Vevo is ahead of those sites in some ways, but quite crippled in others. Here’s a look at the good and the bad:

The economics

It is hard to make advertising money from music videos. When I was at Viacom, we didn’t actually sell music videos as a category. Shows like “The Hills” and “America’s Best Dance Crew” had advertising embedded in the online videos, but we didn’t sell music videos as a separate category because our ad-sales force was unaccustomed to doing so.

The underlying economics, which were more presumed than proven: if we couldn’t support 24-hour music-video television programming with advertising, we probably couldn’t do it online either.

But Vevo is plowing ahead. It has pre-rolls in front of every video, which is more than slightly curious, as a number of the people in its ad-sales group came from Viacom. Presuming a $5 to $10 CPM for the videos doesn’t help in gleaning the overall economics, as the ad split with Google (NSDQ: GOOG) is unclear, and so are the operating costs and sell-through rate for Vevo.com.

The product

Vevo.com is a browsing and consumption site for music videos with a social layer. While a search-oriented user would go to Vevo, type in the name of a band, and go to that band’s page to consume its videos, browse-oriented users would go to the site with hazier goals. They would browse the offerings until they came upon something of interest. But the latter model requires smart classification of the bands, and that can be tricky. Is U2 progressive-rock (1980’s era), new-wave (late 80s), rock-rock (1990’s) or arena rock (now)? Getting this wrong can make the browsing experience painful.

While Vevo certainly has a search bar on the page, it is hoping that you will serendipitously find music on the site. Seeing how many people leave the site after coming to the front page will determine whether search or browsing behavior is the superior approach in the future.

YouTube is handling the back end of the service, and Vevo was wise to outsource the technology part to people who know technology. But hiring a design agency to design the front-end was ill-advised. Vevo used Schematic, which is a top-flight agency. (I have worked with them at Comcast (NSDQ: CMCSA) and at Viacom.) But typically when sites cede control of the design and engineering (of their sites) to a third party, they lose the ability to manage product changes effectively. Either they spend too much money making frequent upgrades, or they make too few changes, instead falling back on annual makeovers.

Playlists

Vevo has done, perhaps, the best job I have seen of video playlists. Add a song, it appears in a runner at the bottom, and a user doesn’t have to engage in menu-diving (the user-experience equivalent of dumpster-diving) to find it.

Social features

Vevo has taken the smart tack of allowing site visitors to sign up with Facebook or Twitter credentials, but hasn’t followed the next logical step of showing those visitors’ preexisting friends and followers that are on the site and what they’re listening to. A simple solution would be to use the user’s Facebook or Twitter image, with his/her permission, and to show that person friends/followers who are already on the site.

The bottom line

Pop-music consumers identify with the band/artist and not the label, so the half-catalog option is crippling and will drive users to sources with a completist worldview, legal or not. Solving this is pretty straightforward: add Warner Music Group (NYSE: WMG) (currently on Hulu and YouTube), EMI, and live performances.

The larger problems that all of these sites are trying to solve: how do I listen to music I care about and discover new music through my friends and through serendipity. There aren’t easy solutions to those problems. Hulu is fantastic for TV video, but I have no idea when my friends use it and what they watch. Facebook and Twitter are fantastic for staying on top of what my friends and people of influence are doing, but they do a poor job of socializing users’ entertainment media consumption.

The opportunity for Vevo, and most media companies, is the sweet spot between the two. There is an avalanche of content to consume. Make it easy to see what my friends/followers are paying attention to so that I don’t have to work to find the good stuff.

Rule number one of product development: people are lazy, model your product to enhance their laziness.

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