NewFront Q&A: Vevo's Doug McVehil Talks Importance Of New Artists, CEO Transition

Vevo's new iOS interface.

Superstars like Katy Perry, Taylor Swift and Nicki Minaj may still drive hundreds of millions of views to Vevo, the six-year-old joint venture between Universal, Sony, Google and Abu Dhabi Media. But for the company’s fourth annual NewFront presentation to advertisers in New York on Thursday (April 30), Vevo will be shining an even brighter light on emerging talent.

Nodding to its channels DSCVR and LIFT, the video portal will feature performances from LIFT alums Magic! and Tori Kelly, as well as unveil plans to expand series like “Do It YourSelfie,” “Superfan Showdown” and “Guess The Video."

Of Vevo’s record 900 pieces of original programming scheduled to debut in 2015, “150 of those in the U.S. alone feature opportunities for new artists, which is a bigger number than ever before,” says Doug McVehil, Vevo’s senior vp, content and programming. “Our research shows that one of the things that our users come to us for is discovering new music, so it’s important first and foremost in giving our viewers something they want.”

Though Vevo remains a top 10 destination for all online video portals (in March 2015, it ranked No. 5 in total unique viewers with 44.3 million, according to ComScore), the second half of 2014 saw the company weather a few growing pains. Last summer, the company made a failed bid to sell itself in the range of $700 million to $1 billion in a sale led by Goldman Sachs and The Raine Group, with potential buyers like DreamWorks' Jeffrey Katzenberg, Yahoo's Marissa Mayer and Amazon's Jeff Bezos ultimately balking at the high price tag. Shortly after Vevo took itself off the block, founding CEO Rio Caraeff announced he would leave at the end of 2014, with CFO Alan Price taking interim reins as CEO while a replacement was actively sought.

Still, the core business is healthy -- Vevo is still the most-watched channel on YouTube, and March 2015’s 44.3 million viewers are up more than 15% from March 2014’s 37.6 million. And the company has more than 200 advertising clients who continue to invest in custom programming -- among them McDonald’s, the inaugural sponsor of LIFT for four years and counting, and Honda, who in 2014 allocated a big chunk of its $50 million Honda Stage campaign to video programming on Vevo.

On the cusp of Vevo’s NewFront, Billboard caught up with McVehil to learn more about the company’s transitional time, increased focus on new artists and its eye on competitors as companies like Vessel and Tidal begin to enter the marketplace.


Billboard: What are your top priorities for this year’s NewFront?

Doug McVehil: Artist development is a big part of our story, and being able to offer more than 150 pieces of content to new artists is something we’re really proud of. With LIFT, McDonald’s has been our sponsor the entire time, which speaks to their happiness over time. To invest in that year over year is a big deal in a world where brands are typically looking something brand new and never done before. We’re very happy about that, and the success we’re having so far with DSCVR will be highlighted with Halsey performing as part of the Newfront.

That’s really the focus for us, along with the success of our big programs with big artist like Certified, which continues to be a big program for us. Were gonna be talking about our second event happening this summer called Certified Live. And we’ll announce as one tentpole event that will launch at the end of the year in December. So all in all, the narrative for us is more, bigger, better.

Why are new artists so important to you at a time when veterans continue to rack up 100 million-plus views through your Certified program?

Our research shows that one of the things that our users come to us for is discovering new music. So it’s important first and foremost in giving our viewers something they want. Secondarily to that, we’re a friend to artists. We’re at a place where we want to really help artist build their careers, showcase their talents. It’s sort of part and parcel with that in partnership with the industry I think.

Who’s an artist that’s seen a measurable impact from Vevo’s early involvement in their career?

On DSCVR we’ve been working with SonReal, a Canadian artist who’s come out on Capitol. He came out in Canada a year before the U.S. company got involved, had a video on YouTube called “Preach,” so the importance of moving that over to Vevo was to help be a part of that story. And from our promotion, Capitol saw really amazing results – number-one, bringing in a lot of views from the U.S. where the vast majority had previously been from Canada, but also affecting things like Facebook engagement, which went up week over week; Instagram followers, which skyrocketed 687%; and Twitter followers, which went up 181%. His SoundCloud plays tripled from the previous timeframe too.

How is Vevo holding up during the management transition following Rio’s departure in late December?

Things are going great for us right now, based on the fact that we have a really strong leadership team that’s been around for awhile and works well together. Most of our day to day operations have not changed at all. We’re head-down, full-speed ahead. We’re focused on a search for a permanent CEO, but I’m not really prepared to comment beyond that.

There’s been a lot of talk about the increased importance of “windowing” and supposed competition from new services like Vessel and Tidal. How do you assess having other options in the marketplace?

I think it’s great. Competition is really healthy, and ends up benefitting artists. We’re constantly looking forward to add more value, and other companies are looking to do the same thing. Every boat rises with the tide, so as long as there’s more hype around music-video premieres as other people promote them out there in the world, it just raises more awareness for video in general. It’s good for us, whether we have the premiere on it or not. It’s parallel to when MTV was premiering videos back in the day – we’d have the same video as them, but we’d benefit from whenever people went online to search for it afterward as well.