Vevo's CEO Rio Caraeff Opens Up

Vevo's CEO tells you why you may never have to pay for music again.

ByCarrie Halperin
January 20, 2012, 4:05 AM

Jan. 20, 2012— -- Vevo, the baby on the music block, has quickly become the No. 1 online music site, but if you're like most of America, you've never heard of it. In an exclusive interview with ABC News, Vevo's CEO Rio Caraeff explained why he's not too worried about that.

Since Vevo launched in 2009 with the backing of Sony Music, Universal and EMI, the company has grown to include more than 55 million unique monthly visitors in the U.S. and currently supports seven of the top 10 musicians' Facebook pages, including those of Rihanna, Katy Perry, Shakira and Michael Jackson. Vevo has doled out more than $100 million in royalties, is the No. 1 music video source on YouTube and has also joined forces with other top music websites, such as AOL Music, Yahoo Music and, now, MTV. Odds are if you're streaming music online, you're getting it from Vevo.

Vevo was launched in 2009, what inspired the concept? We started the company when I was at Universal Music Group. I think, fundamentally, we wanted to figure how we could build a business looking at the passion of everyone on the planet who loves music. Your customer is everyone who loves music, and not everyone who buys it. So we wanted to figure out a way on a worldwide scale to provide the highest quality experience to as many people as possible that would be compatible with what we call the physics of the web.

When you launched you had the backing of three to four major groups: Sony, Universal and EMI. Warner Music Group was missing. Are you in talks to bring it in still? Do you see it as being a part of Vevo in the future?I do. We're in talks with Warner Music group constantly. We hope to have them as a partner soon.

Vevo is growing shockingly fast. It is seen by more people than MTV, Yahoo Music or AOL music but still millions of Americans don't even know what it is. Why do you think that is, and do you think that will change?I think that you're exactly right. Our focus has always been to build a consumer-facing entertainment brand but not at the expense of the artists or our partners. So what that means is we are a brand service on our own. We have 13 million to 14 million people using our mobile app. We're the largest channel and the largest content provider across YouTube. We also syndicate and distribute our videos in many other places. We have a concerted effort under way to have Vevo stand for high quality official music in as many places as possible. But we don't think our brand is more important than the artists' brand, and we don't think our brand is more important than the distributors' brand.

Just looking at some of Vevo's statistics, seven out of 10 of the top artists' Facebook pages are powered by Vevo, including Katy Perry, Lady Gaga, Rihanna, Michael Jackson. Also, the Vevo app, as you said, was downloaded by 13 million people. What else are you working on?We have a deal with Viacom media networks, which is inclusive of MTV and BET, and all of their channel brands to syndicate videos for them and to provide videos for their online businesses. That hasn't launched yet. But MTV and Viacom are working on integrating our videos, and that will launch hopefully later this quarter. We're ready this quarter to launch our Vevo for Xbox experience, which will go on 30 million Xbox live customers with a Connect optimized experience that you can use your voice or your hand to access all our videos on demand. We also have a new version of our iPhone that just went live that scans your music and playlists and gives recommendations based upon the music you like. We have a big launch of our new platform coming soon, a relaunch of the whole Vevo site. Our priorities for the new year are really simple, more global expansion, launching more optimized locally relevant experiences in countries around the world. Right now, we're in 22 countries. Through our distribution on YouTube, we want to launch in at least six more countries. We're also in discussions on how to get to the TV.

You're redesigning the website to make it more social. Will there be another redesign to offer a premium version of Vevo without ads?We're certainly interested in having multiple revenue streams, so it's likely we will deploy a premium component or tier, but what we're not going to do is to try to charge for something that people can get for free today. We're not going to say you used to get videos for free and now you have to pay for them. We're defiantly not going to do that.

You grew up around music. Your dad was in the industry. How did that influence you and the way you're going after music today?My father was a rock and roll photographer. He designed over 500 album covers in the '70s. So I grew up around music. My godfather was Cheech and Chong. I grew up with Steely Dan, Dolly Partnon, the BGs.

I grew up with a passion for music and the experience of music, and the experience at that time was largely live music, and also the experience of the vinyl album LP, where you had big photos, and tactile experience and a much deeper and immersive experience than you have in some ways today.

But to me, music has been about more than what you listen to, it's about something you can experience and access, and it's a subtle but important distinction. I believe the future of music is not downloading music, it's accessing the experience of music. I also look at it a different way. If you look at 500 years ago or 300 years ago, what was music then? Music was not a product to be bought or sold. I think the future of music is about accessing experiences and not about owning or possessing it. I believe the future of music is much like the dawn of music and my experience growing up with my father in the industry helped inform that.

You were quoted in the Guardian as saying sex, music and sports are the only entertainment categories on the planet that people love that can build audiences on the scale of billions of people. It seems like you're cornering the music market. Are you looking into expanding into other areas as well?Definitely not. We think music is a big enough category that we can be well served for decades to come. Music resonates on a tribal and cellular and genetic level with pretty much everybody on the planet. It's hard to find large amounts of people who just hate music. If you spread yourself too thin, you're ultimately not going to do a great job with it.

I heard working at Vevo you have musicians coming in and playing live for employees, and music videos streaming on screens. How does Vevo rate in terms of coolest places to work?There are job opportunities out there if you want to write software or sell advertising or work in a variety of ways. Doing it around music or with music, that's not too bad. If you love music it's better than working at an insurance company. I think it's a fun place to work. We have offices now in London, Chicago, Los Angeles and our headquarters in New York. We just moved into our headquarters in the Conde Nast building in Times Square. We've only been here a week or so. We got rid of all of the offices, so it's all a big plan.

Everybody is just out and about playing music. We have about two to three artists who come by a week, who come by play music and perform and meet the team. We're trying to figure out now what we can do to support the community. So we're putting together a plan with the New York Food Bank, a volunteer plan to get out of the office and do something there. We're also trying to figure out how to shoot more performances in our office, so we have not just artists who play but then we can actually use that performance in various ways.

What's on your Vevo playlist?On my Vevo playlist I have Lana Del Ray's "SNL" performance from this weekend. I have some old Dr. Dre videos, some Rihanna videos and some old Beastie Boys videos, and a lot of my favorite videos are some of the original programing that we create. We have a show called Stylized. Vevo Stylized is all about the fashion and style of music. It's a mix of old and original content.

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