As a founding partner and general manager of Vevo, Fred Santarpia helped create an online premium-content marketplace for music videos and music-related content. But can he do the same for Conde Nast?
As the new executive vice president-chief digital officer for Conde Nast Entertainment, Santarpia joins former CW chief Dawn Ostroff as part of a team of ex-TV/video executives looking to find similar content opportunities in the Conde Nast portfolio. And one of those areas could certainly be music.
"Music is such a fantastic touchpoint for users," Santarpia told Billboard.biz today, "particularly online. It drives so much value in terms of video, obviously. Vevo and Warner Music are the number-one and number-two most-viewed channels right now. There's no denying music is a powerful form of video digitally, so we'll certainly look at ways we can integrate music into content we create. Given the passion music users have for online content, it would be silly not to."
The publishing titan had been notably reluctant to embrace digital platforms until introducing tablet editions of titles like The New Yorker, GQ and Vanity Fair in 2010. Santarpia hopes to expand other new media channels as well. "There will absolutely be a focus on video - how do we extend these great brands, and what is the content strategy?" says Santarpia, whose last day at Vevo is June 15 before joining Conde Nast July 2. "This was really a once-in-a-lifetime, once-in-a-career opportunity to work with some of the most well-known brands in the world and help extend them into new forms of media."
Santarpia had plenty more to say about his years at Vevo and the future of premium online video.
Billboard.biz: Looking back on your three years at Vevo and the goals you had as a launch partner, and your preceding years at Universal, would you call it a success at this point?
Fred Santarpia: I think we've proved a theory that music videos as a genre of content could be successfully monetized at premium CPMs. When you think back to where the marketplace was before Vevo launched, some of the most popular content in the world was being monetized by really low-rate ads like belly-fat reduction, or teeth whitening products, or University of Phoenix recruitment drives. We were coming through with an aggregation strategy and really focusing on three core tenants - that premium content in a really brand-friendly environment, over scale and reach, could be as valuable to advertisers and brands as other forms of content and bring premium, almost broadcast-level CPMs. I think we've proved you can have a meaningful and sustainable impact on music video content. We've proved what we thought we knew.
Also, really trying to make decisions on what was best for the brand. We weren't going to create Vevo.com <http://Vevo.com> to force you to watch a new Justin Bieber premiere, let's put the content in as many places as the fan wants it. I think that was key to really driving our audience strategy. That put us at number one in an audience category among ComScore users, so really using the fan as our guiding light really helped.
BBB: Although you and CEO Rio Caraeff have touted a distribution-ubiquity approach to Vevo going forward, could the company have been successful without launching through YouTube?
Santarpia: There's no doubt that Vevo would not be where it is today without the benefit of the YouTube platform and the scale and the audience that was organically there when Vevo launched around music video. We partnered with YouTube at launch because YouTube was the clear leader and went where the audience was. What we did was make the audience more valuable. We were able to go there and brand it correctly, upgrade the quality mostly to HD and really create a brand-friendly proposition and converted it into a much more valuable offering.
BBB: What opportunities do you see in your new role at Conde Nast?
Santarpia: What we need to figure out is how to take it to the next level right now. It's not going to be B-roll of whatever shoot is taking place, or a drag-and-drop of a print story into a digital experience. What's the unique editorial and creative that already exists form these great brands that will already translate well into a new video experience? That's really what we're thinking, though it's way too early to say we're definitely doing this, or there's a deal there. We'll figure out a content-creation strategy and go ahead and monetize against that. We're talking about a blue-sky opportunity with some of the best-known brands in all of media and entertainment.
BBB: What are some parallels or lessons from your years at Vevo that you might be able to bring to Conde?
Santarpia: Obviously, we're trying to build a sustainable video business at Conde. The big difference between what we did at Vevo and what we'll be doing at Conde was at Vevo, we launched with thousands and thousands of very popular pieces of content. The big difference is we'll need to figure out what the content looks like at Conde versus what we already knew we had at Vevo. Again I come back to what's best for the consumer. First, we're not going for quick cash. We're trying to build a business that really connects organically and authentically with an audience. When you build that connection with an audience, the revenue and monetization will come later. One of the things with Vevo is, how do we get it on iPads as quickly as possible? Or get it on Xbox, on Yahoo, on Aol, on Facebook? The corollary to me is really keeping the audience front and center and creating the right value proposition for the audience to engage with the content we create, and become advocates for it.
BBB: Vevo has been able to grow without a paywall, which is not always the case for some Conde titles. How will you address that with regard to online video?
Santarpia: For Conde you have so many different brands -- in the form of Vogue to the New Yorker to Vanity Fair and Golf Digest -- there's no one-size-fits-all here. A big difference in the gig at Conde is we'll be figuring out that what works for one brand may not be the same for every brand, it may be different distribution strategies or different platforms before others. That's something we'll figure out over time.
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BBB: As you finish your last days at Vevo, where do you see the next potential for growth?
Santarpia: Clearly internationally. We launched in the US and Canada and made great strides to get a localized version of the service in the UK, and you may know we also recently launched in Australia and New Zealand. I'm very proud of the way the business has grown internationally, and I think that will continue to grow. You'll see more foreign territories go live this year and hopefully moreso the big opportunity for Vevo is to continue to expand globally and continue to expand its presence on other IP-connected devices. There's plenty of opportunity when it comes to IP-connected TVs, and we know that market will to continue to grow and web-connected devices will continue to grow.