Vevo, the new music-video site operated by Google (which owns YouTube) and co-owned by three of the four major labels (EMI, Sony, and Universal; Warner Bros. not participating), launched on Tuesday to some fanfare in New York. Big music celebs rubbed elbows with Google and label execs in the kind of self-congratulatory bash that only the entertainment industry can pull off.
Maybe that's too harsh, but I visited the site on Wednesday and I quite honestly can't figure out who or what it's for. It's got music videos, but only from three of the four majors and some independent distributors, which leaves huge swaths of the entertainment landscape blank. As far as I could tell from a search of the site--and the search engine should work, given that Google's behind the site--Vevo is sadly lacking in classic rock and modern indie rock, which are the two genres I listen to most.
There's no Roger Waters or Pink Floyd. No Pixies. No Grizzly Bear. No Led Zeppelin. No Animal Collective. No Beatles. No Eric Clapton. And on and on and on. Go ahead and try your own, you'll get the idea--if you can get the site to work to work at all. (It's been plagued by glitches since launching, and my effort to play U2's "Even Better Than the Real Thing" around 1 p.m. Wednesday met in failure--the video froze around 80 percent loaded.) Apparently, if you can get a video to load, you'll probably have to watch a video advertisement before it starts.
The aforementioned artists are all over the place on YouTube--a site that everybody knows and loves and is largely free from video advertisements. And because Google is behind both sites, videos licensed for Vevo will also appear on YouTube, with Vevo getting the credit (and ad bucks) when a YouTube viewer watches a Vevo video. So why would anybody go to Vevo? Why bother building it, instead of just making it a new channel on YouTube? Who is this for?
The music industry, that's who. It wants to control the online music video experience--Universal Music Group CEO Doug Morris flat out said so. They're tired of mean old Google using its content to sell advertisements. But I honestly can't imagine why Google agreed, unless the labels held it over a barrel, refusing to license their content for YouTube unless Google agreed to help them create a music-industry answer to TV-streaming site Hulu.
Here's the thing. The big winners in the old music industry of yesteryear don't like the Internet. U2 manager Paul McGuinness has said that Internet service providers should bear part of the blame for piracy. Doug Morris earned some scorn two years ago for a Wired interview in which he revealed that his label didn't even try to come up with a digital strategy in the early days, when P2P file-trading networks first started becoming popular.
If you don't like the Internet, you're not going to be able to create an Internet service that people like. More than 15 years into this Interwebs thing, some people still don't understand that if they create an experience that users don't like, it won't get used. It's like they're still living back in 1973 when we only had three TV networks and one or two daily papers and a handful of local radio stations. We now have unlimited choice. Offer me something better than what's out there now, or please, save yourself some money and effort and get out of my way.
Hulu succeeded not only because the TV companies played hardball, refusing to license their content too broadly to other distributors, but also because it launched strong, with a big selection of desirable content. Vevo could certainly turn itself around, but its launch doesn't look very promising. I suspect it'll end up like every other entertainment industry effort that offers no clear benefit to users: on the digital scrapheap.