5 Questions at MIDEM With YouTube’s Patrick Walker: Vevo, 'Gangnam Style,' And More

Google and YouTube made a big splash at MIDEM this year, from speaking on multiple panels to hosting a 2-hour partner workshop to throwing an all-night bash at the Palais de Festival. Anchoring the company’s presence this year was Patrick Walker, senior director of content partnerships for Europe Middle East and Africa at YouTube, who caught up with Billboard on Saturday.

You’ve been with Google since before the YouTube acquisition. How has the company’s relationship with the music industry evolved over the years, especially globally?
The time that we acquired YouTube in October of '06 there were only four partnerships formally in the world -- with the major labels out of North America. And then we started to go around and sign and establish relationships. Now we have over 1 million revenue-generating partnerships -- this very long tail of creators and users in the music space. We have probably 95% of all the biggest indies in the market all across Europe. We’re  also looking at countries to launch -- Ukraine was a short while ago -- and establish relationships with the biggest local independent labels there as well as working with the local offices of the majors to see how we can work together.

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Vevo has been working to expand its global footprint, too -- any interesting trends or consumption patterns you’ve noticed in your territories?
Vevo is very deeply integrated and it’s a natural part of people’s experience on YouTube. I don’t think it’s necessarily different how they might be consumed on YouTube in France as it might be in Switzerland. A lot of users don’t necessarily know which label a certain artist is with, they just want to see the content made available to them. The combination of the majors’ own marketing power and what they’re doing with their artists and bringing the labels together is great in addition to creating algorithms that match search queries.
Speaking of music videos, “Gangnam Style” achieved 1 billion views in just over three months, a milestone that took Justin Bieber’s “Baby” two years to achieve. Korea is a very active YouTube market and an obvious factor in its success, but what else accelerated that virality?
It was the expansion outside Korea  that really made the difference, since he was always popular in Korea. I think it was the acceleration driven by social networking today. It’s possible that if Justin Bieber’s “Baby” had come out tomorrow it might have had much more rapid growth -- if you just think about, in the last two years, the number of people joining Twitter, joining Facebook, there’s just that much of a greater multiplication effect of anything that happens to become popular at that moment. But it does show art and culture and talent is not limited to nor should it be dominated by any geographic culture or country -- it’s completely an open playing field for the next big star. It gives people hope to experiment and try. The other important thing is our technology has developed in the last few years. If you get that link sent to you on an email, or it’s embedded on a Facebook page or a text message, if that link arrives to you no matter where you are in which country it should just work. We’ve spent a lot of time on our technology so that the consumption experience is seamless to the user. It should be completely device agnostic. Two years ago we did not have as many connected TV apps or as robust of an iPhone app as we do today. We did not have all the different tables that we now have.
YouTube introduced an extensive lineup of lifestyle channels in the U.S. last spring. How has that strategy been adapted internationally?
We announced 60 channels in October in the indigenous European countries, many of them have been launched. In the music space we have one with Mixmag that’s grown out. We’re working as well on partnering with some of the U.S. launch channels like Warner Sound. It really was meant as a way to seed and get people excited around having your own channel on YouTube. Since then we’ve seen lots of the channels and other people get involved through their own funding and investments and companies focusing very much on this space. I think if you look at what’s happening with the big rounds of investment -- with the likes of Maker Studios and the Fullscreens of this world drawing a lot of attention, Revision 3 sold to Discovery Networks, Flip sold to Elisabeth Murdoch’s Shine -- major companies are embracing these indigenous channels, embracing these technologies to find ways to seek a new connection with a younger audience. You can have niches on YouTube that only exist at the scale on a magazine shelf. There’s nothing really to keep anyone from having as much variety in their channel selection as they currently have on a newsstand. You can have a cooking channel that’s not just about cooking but baking, and not just baking but baking cupcakes. It can be viable.
What learnings from the U.S. launches have you been able to apply to the new European verticals?
Marketing is a challenge. People that came to us with some experience on the platform were more likely to succeed. We also learned that just because you brought celeb X to the table that doesn’t mean it was gonna be successful. In fact you could bring no-name talent with previous visibility and if you get your digital, promo and social strategy right, you could kick the ass of anyone who thought bringing the big name of an artist or producer would make the difference. You need to understand how to use our tools, be genuine in your outreach from the audience. You need to learn from the YouTube masters like Ray William Johnson who’ve made a very good living by being connected YouTubers.