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Why Vevo Will Fail

It makes sense that Vevo, the music video site that launched as a joint venture between Universal Music and Sony Music yesterday, is trying to cast itself as MTV meets Hulu. An unlikely underdog when it entered the scene back in early 2007, Hulu — a video platform backed by major broadcasters — sounded to many like a recipe for disaster. We gleefully ridiculed the venture, calling it names and predicting its imminent demise.

Boy were we wrong. At least in the U.S., Hulu has become practically synonymous with watching TV online. The site served an astonishing 856 million streams in October alone, according to comScore, and a few missteps along the way haven’t managed to substantially hurt the venture. Clearly, Vevo would like to follow Hulu’s rise to fame. I just don’t think it will happen. Vevo, in its current form, is doomed to fail.

It’s not even the ownership that’s bugging me, even though there is much to be bugged by. Vevo is jointly owned by Sony Music and the Universal Music Group, with an investment coming from the Abu Dhabi Media Group. This isn’t the first time Sony and Universal have tried to cook up something together; they formed an online music joint venture called Pressplay back in the heydays of Napster.

Pressplay was supposed to be “on the leading edge of music” by offering pricey, DRM-laden subscription packages to people used to free downloads. EMI was wise enough not to join the venture, thought it ended up licensing its music. But while Pressplay went nowhere, the very same ownership and licensing structure is now in place with Vevo.

Nor is it the fact that has been struggling for the better part of yesterday and today, serving up 503 error messages and at times even going completely blank, that leads me to believe it will fail. Even though that’s pretty embarrassing for a site backed by two major labels and sitting atop Google’s infrastructure.

No, what really bothers me is the fact that Hulu for music videos is a fundamentally misguided idea, one that ignores key differences between music and TV programming. TV is for the most part still a lean-back medium. Sure, we love to surf the web and send out tweets while we watch the latest Heroes episode, but we’re not interacting with the show in the same way that we would with a song, or even a music video. Not to be too poetic here, but one could argue that we create our own music videos every time we listen to music. The same can’t be said of TV shows. I don’t really act out too many Heroes episodes in my head.

But music videos have become a participatory medium. Cases in point: The tens of thoudsands of OK GO music videos from high schools and bored teens all around the world, the JK Wedding Entry Dance and the thousands of wedding dance clips it inspired, never mind the countless uploads of fan-filmed live shows and remixes. Heck, if I search for Bono on Vevo, all I get is a handful of clips. Do the same search on YouTube, and you’ll get the official footage, plus dozens of live gigs from all around the world.

The idea is not to separate music videos from all these user contributions, but to embrace them, much in the same way Warner Sony did with the JK wedding video, which helped to propel the Chris Brown song used in the video to the top of various download charts. In other words, if you want to have a Hulu-like success story for music videos, you shouldn’t build another Hulu, but something with an upload button.

Of course, there’s already a site that offers music videos, fan remixes and participation that goes far beyond leaving a comment or rating a video: YouTube. Trying to build a separate location for content that’s such an integral part of YouTube without tapping into its user-generated content — that’s a recipe for failure.

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11 Responses to “Why Vevo Will Fail”

  1. “No, what really bothers me is the fact that Hulu for music videos is a fundamentally misguided idea, one that ignores key differences between music and TV programming.”

    Sorry, but that’s irrelevant.

    The reason why Vevo could fail is very simple: new content is the lifeblood of the online media business.

    Hulu can stream new episodes of most current TV shows immediately after they air on linear TV, when they are most valuable by far. For example, if a new episode of Lost airs every Thursday for 4 months and is avail on Hulu the same day, regular Hulu users will come back every week to watch that same show.

    A library of music videos, however massive, will not consistently attract returning visitors. Unless it is very clever about adopting Pandora-like targeting and/or offers extremely deep libraries for individual artists to serve passionate fans, visitors to Vevo may often watch (or listen to) 3 or 4 videos from the same artist, but will then have trouble finding something else they want to watch, never to return again.

    Even if there is a steady flow of new content from top pop artists (Beyonce, Britney Spears, etc), these artists don’t release new albums every week to encourage people to return to Vevo!

    Another very important factor is that the off-line marketing and PR blitz for new albums for the most part ends when the new album is released. For TV hits, it continues throughout the season – millions of people continue to consume the “product” on an ongoing basis, driving what you might call word-of-mouth retention marketing, and millions of people continue to see the on-air promo spots that support the program.

    Hulu has enough of these hits to keep people coming back over and over again.

  2. Music Insider

    Nick, I am glad you and rest of the industry insiders are reading this & attempting to understand the digital world.

    Having worked in the industry for last 10 years across the globe, I would like to highlight 3 points:

    1) New Model: are you FREAKING kidding me? I have heard this phrase from every damn music exec in from LA-NY-LDN-HK for any new service being launched.
    For heaven’s sake get your head out of your ivory asses and look up– not a single music initiative by a label has worked and most if not all of them have been closed systems–that shit doesnt work. I dont know how some of you lot got Harvard degrees.

    2) Scarcity: Again this hasnt work since internet days and will not work either. The cat is out of the bag and acknowledge that than sitting in a 1980’s fantasy world. Can one really defend the success of iTunes to SCARCITY of content? It was combination of easy access (scarcity less) and cheaper (ie not buying a freaking full album for 1 song) that has build a genuine legal music biz. I know many in the industry may not like Apple, but they are the only White Knight here–take something from them and make it better.

    3) Technology: I know you guys are no tech-geeks and no one expects that. But any faulty CD backlash would be borne upon by the label, same goes on any other medium, including digital. Yes, there can be faults but not like the ones seen by me and the author–this was amateur work. Either pay for some tech rockstars and just do simple licensing deals and let others take the technology fault. YOU HAVE NO EXCUSES FOR SUCH MISTAKES.

    Lastly, given last weeks acquisitions, it is sad to hear that NOT a single label bought over guys like iMeem or LALA (who are the real bread winners for your content) but rather a desperate sale to non-music-industry-insiders such MS and Apple.

    I am sorry Nick in advance for such a harsh response, but I sincerely hope for our industry’s future we take a hard and realistic look. I would rather be fueled on 1980’s aura but am afraid, we are well past those days now.

  3. So funny that folks are so quick to pronounce this venture as doomed. I don’t think you can fairly judge at this – day 2 – of what’s a new model for the consumption of music video. Sure, it was embarassing that the site couldn’t manage the traffic, but kinks get worked out, and at the end of the day it’s about the content, and the content is going to be the highest quality on the web. And if you think music video is all it will be, I think that’s short-sited.

    I actually think that VEVO as an experience can, will and frankly must succeed – never have the labels been so motivated to try something different, their is a user experience that has proven to be successful, and scarcity can do wonders for driving traffic.

    So give it a minute, and let’s see what happens in 3-6 months…

    BTW, Chris Brown is a Sony artist, not WMG.

  4. If you paid attention to the press release, you would know that vevo is also on youtube. For the user it doesn’t change the experience. For the advertiser, vevo controls the advertising on youtube.