I grew up in the age of MTV, so it’s no surprise that I often fall down the music videos rabbit hole on YouTube. Many of those videos are provided by Vevo, a joint venture among several of the music labels. Vevo’s formation with YouTube was a turning point in our relationship with the labels and YouTube later became a partner in the JV. Erik Huggers is CEO of Vevo, but our relationship dates back further….
Hunter Walk: We first met while you were part of the BBC’s executive team. In recent years, it feels like BBC’s media philosophy has influenced US content – examples include Apple Beats 1 Radio being curated by a former BBC DJ talent and 10-13 episode seasons for TV shows (versus the 24+ previously found on US networks). Are we seeing a different type of “British Invasion” – less about the performers (sorry Adele) and more about the curation, the style?
Erik Huggers: It’s fascinating to see how much of the BBC’s philosophy continues to make its way across the world. Whether it’s the top quality programming, the corporation licenses to multiple platforms or former BBC employees who join those same places to carry the torch. I wonder if part of this momentum has to do with the tremendous growth of advertising free OTT (over-the-top content) services like Netflix? Audiences are increasingly expecting higher quality storytelling and arguably one of the best places to practice the art without worrying about commercial influence remains the BBC. The construct of the universal license fee allows the corporation to focus 100% on the public purposes.
HW: You’re now the CEO of Vevo, which distributes perhaps the most valuable audio/visual asset created: music videos. What attracted you to this role after stints at BBC and Intel? Did you find a company which felt more like a technology startup or more like a media company?
EH: I’ve been really lucky in my last two opportunities to join companies when they wanted to do something at the forefront of an industry transition. At the BBC we had one of the most iconic media companies in the world that wanted to usher in a new way of on-demand content consumption for the digital world that was well before it’s time with BBC iPlayer. With Intel Media, we created a platform in OnCue that was the re-imagination of linear television for an on-demand, cloud-connected world.
Vevo brings the best of both worlds together for me. We have an amazing catalog of some of the world’s most sought after content with music videos combined with enormous audience reach and scale (17B unique views per month). At the same time, we are a young and relatively small company that’s learning how to move quickly like a start-up. We’re heavily investing in rapidly building and iterating new products for mobile and connected TVs while expanding our content and programming reach. Timing is everything and I couldn’t think of a better place to be, particularly at a time of great opportunity and change in the music industry.
HW: Music videos (and videos containing licensed music) account for a good chunk of YouTube video views. How would you characterize the partnership with YouTube? Is it possible to build a strong Vevo brand on the YouTube platform or do consumers ultimately just care about the music artists themselves, not an umbrella brand.
EH: That’s a really interesting question for us as we navigate 2016. YouTube has been, and will continue to be, a very important distribution partner for Vevo. Music videos on YouTube make up a small percentage of overall content in units but represent an enormous amount of the traffic. 17 of the 23 videos on YouTube that have surpassed 1B views to date have been Vevo music videos. That’s an incredibly powerful indicator of the power of music videos.
What’s changed for Vevo from the past is that we’re now also investing heavily in our own products and experiences for mobile and connected TV – both ad supported and at a later date subscription-based. I believe there’s room for a productive coexistence where users can still enjoy our content on YouTube but also have the option of a tailored experience that’s personalized for individuals who love music videos. Even though a flea market can attract a very large audience I think we live in a world where a specialty store can thrive in parallel.
HW: While at Intel you spearheaded their push into the future of TV. It was a bold initiative which lost internal sponsorship after an executive change. But I’m sure informed how you think about Vevo’s role in the living room. What opportunities do products like AppleTV hold for Vevo?
EH: Apple TV, particularly the newest version, represents a significant opportunity for Vevo. In the latest iteration of the product Apple created a modern development environment that gave us the tools to build what we think is the best music video experience for connected TVs to date. Vevo on Apple TV offers a fast and fluid user interface that’s easy to navigate and personalize while having incredibly fast load times.
We’ve also created a process where it easily syncs with your iPhone, so if you have multiple accounts in the home you now have a simple way of switching between them from an IOS device. We like the direction the platform is heading and it’s clear that Apple has become increasingly serious about their ambitions on the big screen.
HW: Do you ever karaoke? What’s your go-to song?
EH: I am afraid it’s not my thing, but do vividly recall a meeting with senior executives of a Korean company that will remain unnamed. We had little choice but to join as every attendant sang a chapter of “Let It Be” by John Lennon.