Digital Media

Vevo's reboot starts with iPhone app that knows the right tunes for you

After six months at the helm of the Internet's biggest library of top music videos, Erik Huggers wants to show off the new Vevo. That begins with a revamped app.

Erik Huggers, the CEO of Vevo since April, is starting the company's reboot with a revamped iPhone app.

Vevo

Erik Huggers is ready to jump-start Vevo.

Six months ago, Huggers took command of the company, best known as home to many of the most popular music videos on the Internet. A revamp of its iPhone app, launched Thursday, is the prelude to more changes, he said, as Vevo updates its original content, considers new partners among social networks and telecom companies, and weighs a venture into subscriptions.

"Call it the reboot," he said in an exclusive interview Tuesday.

Vevo is a powerful force in online music. Its catalog of 150,000 top official videos draws 12 billion views a month. But the company has grappled to establish an identity separate from YouTube. Though people can go to Vevo.com to watch its clips, the firm's channel on Google's massive video site is where most of the viewership of Vevo's content occurs, and that means sharing ad revenue with Google. Huggers' goal, starting with a mobile app that plays and discovers the right music videos for you, is for Vevo to mean more than just a logo at the bottom of popular YouTube clips.

That challenge is heightened by its ownership. Vevo is a joint venture of two of the three major music labels, Universal Music Group and Sony Music Entertainment. The two rivals have to smooth their hackles for the business of Vevo to advance. In addition to outside investor Abu Dhabi Media, YouTube parent Google also holds a stake in Vevo, buying a roughly 7 percent share two years ago. That makes YouTube a partner, an investor and a competitor.

In fact, YouTube launched its own music-focused app hours before Vevo released its new app Thursday. The development of YouTube Music didn't involve Vevo, according to T. Jay Fowler, YouTube's head of music products, even though Vevo supplies the site with the preponderance of the most popular videos.

"Some people will love the YouTube app. Other people, we hope, will love the Vevo app," Huggers said. Over the next few months, Vevo plans to introduce similar programs for devices run by Google's Android system and for Apple TV.

Huggers' outlook for Vevo made exploration a common refrain.

For one, the company is considering partnerships with new powerful players. This week, Vevo was among the video sites participating in a program at wireless carrier T-Mobile that lets some customers watch unlimited video that doesn't count against their data allotment. Asked if social networks, telecom carriers or Internet service providers were in Vevo's sights, Huggers said the company is exploring "anything and everything."

"[That] list was very precise," he said. "Certainly, that thought hasn't been lost on us."

Huggers wants to move the company into new frontiers for its own shows, as well. He said "mobile-first, premium short-form original content" would be "very, very important." Clips like that are "a white space that is still to be figured out," he said. He pointed to his hiring of Andy Parfitt as an indication of change. Like Huggers, Parfitt worked at the BBC, where he most recently led Radio 1. "We're experimenting, and we will turn up the volume," he said.

The company may eventually consider a subscription option to pair with its current business of ads that rack up revenue from free viewing. For now, though, Vevo is "completely focused" on the advertising-based model because the volume of viewing "blows the mind," he said.

Vevo's owners failed to sell Vevo last year, and longtime chief Rio Caraeff departed in November. Huggers took the reins in April. He previously ran chipmaker Intel's effort to make an Internet TV service that was eventually sold to Verizon. Huggers rose to prominence as the executive who launched the BBC's iPlayer online service, a vanguard of online television streaming.

For today, however, Huggers is focused on the company's fresh app for Apple mobile devices.

The app is set up so first-time users visually pick through some favorite artists and say how they want to discover new content. The app has a Spotlight feature for content from favorite artists, and it simplifies playlist creation.

The goal was "making it simple, making it easy, making it clean," he said, adding that sites like YouTube are the "one-stop shop for everything." Vevo, he said, wants to be "a beautiful place for artists to showcase their work."

He's betting viewers will flock to beauty too.