Why Vevo is betting on smart TVs

The team at Vevo is keeping busy: Just a few years after the music video platform significantly scaled back its ambitions, it is back in expansion mode, launching apps and channels on a variety of smart TV platforms.

  • In the fall, it launched Redbox’s “Free Live TV” service. Two months later, Vevo went live on Vizio smart TVs. And earlier this month, Vevo unveiled an app for Comcast’s X1 set-top boxes and Flex streaming boxes.

The smart TV push is a response to changing consumer behavior, Kevin McGurn, Vevo’s president of sales and distribution, told me this week.

  • Desktop viewership was falling, mobile views kept growing as you’d expect, but McGurn said Vevo’s smart TV growth was off the charts: Globally, TV views grew 30% year-over-year in 2020. In the U.S., TV viewing even grew by 58%.
  • “It was an opportunity that presented itself,” McGurn said. “We just got lucky with the timing.”

This is just the latest shift for Vevo, which, in 2013, primarily focused on distributing music videos on YouTube. “The bet on YouTube was a really good one,” McGurn told me. “It still is.”

  • Under the leadership of its former CEO Erik Huggers, Vevo tried to become less dependent on YouTube. The company launched an ambitious set of apps and services across mobile, the web and TVs, and Huggers even played with the idea of a subscription service.
  • Vevo abandoned most of those efforts after Huggers’ departure, shutting down its website and most of its apps with the exception of Apple TV and Roku.
  • Those two apps, as well as Vevo’s distribution via YouTube’s TV apps, saw massive growth over the past few years, and even more so during COVID, with McGurn telling me that the company is seeing north of 30% of its viewing happening on TV screens in some markets.

Now, Vevo wants to keep expanding on smart TVs, while also ramping up its international expansion and efforts to sell TV audiences to advertisers.

  • There’s only one thing Vevo isn’t looking to do any time soon: build a mobile app. McGurn said that the company is happy leaving that piece of the distribution puzzle to YouTube, allowing it to focus on TV innovation.

One example of what comes next: Vevo began embracing the idea of linear channels when it teamed up with Pluto TV in 2019. Since then, the company has doubled the number of these programmed channels, and brought them to other platforms as well, with encouraging results: Vevo clocked more than 10 million daily views on Pluto and Samsung TV Plus in 2020.

  • These channels, as well as personalization and recommendations that make it possible to start with one video and then let algorithms take over, have led to viewing times of over one hour on connected TVs. “It really starts to look and feel a lot like a television network,” McGurn said.