Interview: Vevo’s Caraeff On Music Videos’ Renaissance

Pioneered and perhaps now abandoned by MTV, the music video can be re-invented by the web and location-aware mobile devices, the CEO of music video distributor Vevo tells paidContent.

“Our fastest-growing platform is mobile; our streaming volume there is doubling every 30 days,” Rio Caraeff says. “Right now, over 50 million of our video views per month are from mobile.”

Owned by Universal, *Sony* Music Entertainment and Abu Dhabi Media Company, Vevo in December launched mobile and iPad apps with “music maps”, a feature with which users can see what videos are being played by folks nearby. It’s not clear whether anyone cares what strangers in the same city happen to be listening to, but Vevo will soon inject Facebook Connect in to the feature, so users can see friends’ viewing habits.

“Location is a great way to discover music,” says Caraeff. “Tying location, presence, geography in to music discovery is a big part of what we’ve enabled. I may want to say, what’s going on in New York, or in Germany. I may want to see what videos were filmed in this location, who’s playing in Texas tonight.”

It’s tempting to think of Vevo as the online generation’s MTV, now that MTV itself has moved from music videos toward original shows. As we reported recently, music listeners play online music videos more than they buy song downloads.

But the music video format whose parameters were set by the characteristics of TV need not be the same nowadays. Caraeff talks with admiration of Arcade Fire’s HTML5 experiment and a “choose-your-own-adventure” music vid shown recently by Vevo.

“Why should a music video be like it was in 1983?,” he asks paidContent. “Why should a song be three and a half minutes, a flat file that’s not aware that it’s on the internet in the first place?

“Maybe it should know my likes and dislikes, maybe it should know whether it’s raining in Seattle or whether the stock market’s up or down. Maybe it should know whether it’s day time or night time out. Maybe it should be a different experience three months later, if the fan or artist wants to impact the creative process.”

“Just because they were on television 20 years ago, that doesn’t mean music videos can’t be innovative online today. Just putting music videos online is not particularly innovative – but that’s where you start, not where you end.

“The global appetite for music is bigger than ever. That’s good for fans and artists – there’s transformation going on, but music videos form a baseline catalogue, a place to build upon. We’re creating new experiences and live events to build on top of that. There’s a lot of creativity, there’s no rules as to what the future will be – just different people being stimulated by what’s possible.”

Vevo is both its own destination and a distributor of videos, for which it is the licensing partner, to destinations lik YouTube, Facebook, AOL (NYSE: AOL) and CBS (NYSE: CBS), with which it shares ad income from pre-rolls and display ads. With about 60 million monthly users on comScore (NSDQ: SCOR) count, the majority (70 percent) happens on YouTube (NSDQ: GOOG). Of the remaining 30 percent, is the most popular destination.

The syndication strategy is in order to amass a broad audience for advertisers. “You can’t be at a small scale and be meaningful to major brands, or major artists either,” Caraeff says. “So scale is what we’ve tried to build with this platform – but in a way that’s compatible with the physics of the web. Instead of telling people they have to come to your site – that’s an old paradigm – I believe in putting Vevo everywhere the fan is. You can drink from whatever tap you want to, but the water’s going to come from our well.”

Vevo launched fully in the UK on Tuesday, despite having been available through some syndication partners for some time. It counts 12 to 15 brands as advertising partners – including O2, BT (NYSE: BT), Puma and L’Oreal – and now plans further international launches later this year. Priorities are the major European markets, Brazil and Australia.