Vevo on Chromecast, one dongle closer to world domination (Q&A)

Vevo is one of Chromecast's newest apps, but for Vevo CEO Rio Caraeff, it's one more step in reinventing the music video and taking over the globe, he tells CNET in an exclusive interview.

Vevo's CEO Rio Caraeff
Vevo Chief Executive Rio Caraeff at an event last year in New York City. Getty Images

Vevo, an MTV for the Internet age, is just getting started.

It now reels in 5 billion video views a month -- imagine the entire US population sitting down to stream Miley Cyrus' "Wrecking Ball." Fifteen times over.

Vevo is in 13 countries, and it's on multiple platforms like Android and Samsung smart TVs -- and it just added one more.

On Tuesday, Vevo joined a short list of online entertainment ventures on Chromecast.

Since Google introduced its $35 HDMI dongle (read CNET's review) to easily fling Internet content onto televisions, Chromecast's life has been marked by feverish consumer interest but lethargy getting apps. It launched with four -- Netflix, and three from its own stable: YouTube, Google Play Movies & TV and Google Play Music. Since then, it has rolled out support for Hulu Plus , Pandora and HBO Go . Vevo, a joint venture between labels Universal Music and Sony Music and outside investor Abu Dhabi Media, is now one of the latest.

(Nine other apps landed on Chromecast on Tuesday along with Vevo: Red Bull.TV, Songza, PostTV, Viki, Revision 3, BeyondPod, Plex, Avia, or RealPlayer Cloud.)

Chromecast is special for Vevo, said Rio Caraeff, chief executive of the online music-video service. His vision for Vevo is not only to reach every corner of the world -- a daunting ambition given that music is the most convoluted and inhibiting art form to license worldwide -- but to revolutionize the concept of the music video.

In an exclusive interview with CNET, Caraeff discusses how Chromecast is the step in that direction. The following is an edited Q&A:

Q: Chromecast brings you into the Google universe again, after YouTube made an investment in Vevo as you both renewed your agreement together. But YouTube remains Vevo's biggest platform, and that means sharing the spoils. Do you view Google as a partner or do you view it as a competitor?
Caraeff: They're absolutely our biggest partner, on many different levels. YouTube is, of course, our biggest distribution platform -- it's not the only distribution platform, but it is certainly our largest. Obviously, they've made an investment in the company, and we have a mutually beneficial distribution and sales arrangement. And we also are very excited to support Chromecast.

Vevo's CEO Rio Caraeff
Vevo's CEO Rio Caraeff Vevo

Q: What specifically about Chromecast is attractive?
Caraeff: The living room and the big screen are incredibly important to us. It's our most important growth opportunity, it's where all of our resources are going. Chromecast is very exciting because it's about enabling the mobile device to be the set-top box.

I believe that the vast majority of people on the planet will use their mobile device as the set-top box to get video to the television. We're going through a very rapid transition period of experimentation, of game consoles and awkward hockey pucks and lots of HDMI dongles and appendages. I think we'll look back in time, a year or two from now, maybe three years, and say, "Remember when I had to buy that $49 thing, or that $99 thing? Or remember when I had to change inputs, or remember when I used to have this thing hanging off the back of my TV?" This will seem like Stone Age type of stuff.

The only certainty is that everyone on the planet will have phones, and they will want to get stuff on the big TV, and the phone will be the way they get that. I don't think everyone on the planet is going to buy $400 game consoles or $100 set-top boxes. I think Chromecast is a step in that direction. I don't look at Chromecast as something you plug into your TV, I look at it as an interim step. I look at it as bringing the intelligence to the screen and using the phone as the remote control.

Chromecast is unique in that you're not streaming video from the phone to the TV, you're sending a network address to the TV, and the TV is streaming it directly down from the network. It's the first time the intelligence is being pushed to the screen and to the cloud. We don't know what to expect, but we think it's an important enabling technology to support. We don't think Chromecast is the end, we think it is the beginning of how you can get video to the TV enabled by your phone.

Q: Chromecast was perceived as slow in getting apps. Do you think Chromecast doing something different in that way is the reason?
Caraeff: Anytime you're doing something new, you have to try to develop an ecosystem and get people to support it. And that doesn't happen over night. Only a small quantity of companies have the scale and leverage to get developers to adopt new things. I think they're trying to carry a lot of water and move the industry forward, it does take a little bit of time.

Vevo's app for television. Vevo

Q: Yesterday was Vevo's four-year birthday. How do you look back on the last four years? And four years from now, what do you see?
Caraeff: We've launched in 13 countries, we just hit 5 billion views in one month, we're on dozens of different platforms and reaching a lot of people. We're just getting started. We need to become truly global, outside of YouTube. It's a global world, it's very hard to be relevant culturally and globally when you're not everywhere. We need to help move the industry forward, helping to reinvent and reinvigorate the medium itself. I really want Vevo to be a catalyst to reinventing music videos -- how do we make the music video conscious that it's on the Internet? How do we make the music video aware that it's 60 degrees out in New York, or that it's dark in Seattle, or that the stock market is up. The video should really become native to the Internet and not repurposed from television 30 years ago. It should be a new form of artistic expression, for artists to be excited by the new things they can do, as opposed to making a video as they did for television in the '80s and the '90s. We're not there yet, but I feel like that's our responsibility and our destiny to help get there.

Q: This idea of making music videos more than something that's simply transferred over from a bygone television age, what will that look like?
Caraeff: I look at when television was invented and radio was invented, what did we as human beings do? We didn't know what to put on television, so we turned a camera on radio, and we turned a camera on theater, and all of a sudden, that's TV programming. It took us decades to to figure out, well, what could we do on TV that we could never have done on radio. And where are we today? We're taking movies and television shows and music videos, and as a society we're replacing one screen with another. That's not innovative. What are we doing on the Web that we can only do on the Web? That's only when things get interesting, and you're not repurposing the past.

Vevo's app for iPhone. Vevo

With music videos and concerts, I think about how as an artist I can take advantage of all the aspects of the medium -- mobility or location or two-way communications or various types of interfaces and information sources -- and use that to tell my story and express myself creatively in a new way. This is already happening today, it's kind of a renaissance period of experimentation, with lots of one-off flowers blooming through the dirt, but there's no standardization. Bob Dylan has a great new interactive video, Arcade Fire has a great new interactive video but it doesn't work on my iPhone, it doesn't work on Xbox, it doesn't work on Apple TV, it doesn't work in this browser. And if I'm a new artist and I want to create an interactive video like that, there's no way for me to do that. I don't have million of dollars to do it like Bob Dylan. I want Vevo to be a catalyst to evolve video.

Q: This discussion of helping emerging artists that sounds like, again, a set-up to compete with Google.
Caraeff: That's not what I'm talking about. Vevo is a place to discover and enjoy the highest quality music programming. That includes major artists like Miley Cyrus and Lana Del Rey, but it also is about discovery and finding something new in the context of the familiar. Our most successful artist discovery program is Vevo Lift, it's how we put the weight of the company behind breaking artists. We produce a lot of programming with these artists, it's not just about featuring them in a carousel.

We are not the place for every artist in the world to upload whatever they want, we're not the best place for every band in their garage to hope that they can get signed. That place already exists, it's called YouTube, and we didn't want to reinvent that wheel. Our heritage was coming form the major music companies, we decided to focus on that and not be the place for every artist in the world to upload those videos.

When we created the word Vevo, it stands for video evolution. My vision for the company is to do those things but we had to build certain things first. We had to build distribution platform first, we had to build a monetization and revenue capability first, we had to acquire the licenses to the content first -- all of a sudden, those things become all encompassing and taking up all of your time. And those are big business unto themselves, but I don't want to lose sight of what we started on in the beginning, which was that vision of helping to reinvent the music video.

Q: Besides the work developing Vevo as a platform first, what else holds you back from making that happen?
Caraeff: The only friction that we encounter is the complexity of music copyright. I would love to be in 50 countries outside of YouTube, I'd love to be 150 countries, but I'm only at 13 today. The nature of music copyright requires us to do a lot of local licensing deals, and that takes a lot of money and time and energy.

Vevo's app for Chromecast on an iPad Vevo

Q: Will music copyright move into the 21st century? What will get it there?
Caraeff: These are decades-old statutes and laws and licenses. Just because you're frustrated, and technology moves fast, doesn't give you a license to break the law. Copyright lags technology usually. It ultimately comes down to what's the economic opportunity. If there's money to be made, then the processes will have to evolve. These are real businesses -- music subscriptions services, streaming video services. This is not something that is a sideshow, this is now becoming the majority of where the business is. I do think that we're starting to see change.

Q: How is Vevo going to get to where it wants to be? Are you looking to get investment to make the kinds of leaps you need?
Caraeff: I think that over time the answer is yes. We will look for growth capital to accelerate the trajectory of the business. We're not at a stage where we're looking for that yet. We need to do a few things to get the business ready, it comes down to making sure that you're content is going to be there for a long period of time. Distribution partnerships have to be long term. We're getting great support from our licensors to do that. But we're not done yet.

 

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