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How Vevo Wants to Leapfrog YouTube By Taking Cues from Snapchat and Tinder

How do you reinvent music television for a generation that grew up not watching MTV, but YouTube, Vine and Snapchat? That’s a question that Vevo has been trying to answer ever since former BBC and Intel Media executive Erik Huggers took over the leadership of the major-label-owned music video platform a little over a year ago.

Before Huggers, Vevo was primarily known for supplying YouTube with music videos from its owners Sony Music and Universal. Since then, the company has significantly built out its product team, which is housed in a massive new office in San Francisco, relaunched its website and launched new apps for mobile and TV devices. The company has also announced that it will launch a paid tier later this year, and hinted at more original programming.

On Thursday, Vevo took another step towards building out that next-generation music video platform with a brand refresh, a number of new features for its apps and the addition of a slate of curators that is supposed to turn Vevo into a platform where you not just watch the videos you know, but also discover new music.

The company billed those new features as the first steps of a “company-wide reboot.” To outsiders, that may sound like over-promising. In many ways, Vevo is just playing catch-up with other music and video services. But the company is also in a very unique position to essentially start from scratch. With all of Vevo’s content also being available on YouTube and elsewhere, almost no one made the effort to visit Vevo’s website or apps in the past. That also means Vevo has no baggage, no assets to protect, as it is trying to figure out: How, exactly, do you watch music videos in 2016?

Case in point: Vevo introduced a new news feed in its iPhone app Thursday that’s all about vertical viewing on the go. Vevo’s team has extracted 15-seconds snippets from the service’s videos that play fullscreen without the need to turn the phone to its side. “People like to hold their phone in portrait,” said Vevo’s head of product Mark Hall during a recent interview.

Users can also watch the entire video in portrait mode, which gives the app a very Snapchat-like feel, and easily switch from a full-screen view that cuts off the corners to a traditional player that shows the full video and also lets users browse for the next track. It’s not the first time Vevo has borrowed some ideas from other popular social apps: For its onboarding process, Vevo lets users swipe left and right on artists, just like one would with potential dates on Tinder.

At launch, Vevo’s team has selected just a single 15-second preview snippet for each and every video, but Hall said that the company wants to start extracting multiple clips in the near future and then test them with its audience to figure out which one performs the best — something that Netflix recently started to do with many of its media assets.

To do things like that, Vevo now has an internal team of data scientists. These folks are also behind personalized recommendations, which Vevo started to add to its website and apps Thursday as well. “If you are a heavy metal fan and we are serving you the Top 40, you won’t be happy,” said Hall.

Vevo is also launching personal profiles that allow users to share favorites and playlists, but again with a Snapchat-generation twist: By default, those profiles are private. That sounds counter-intuitive for a web property looking to boost engagement, but Hall argued that today’s audiences prefer to keep things amongst their friends. “Maybe they are guilty of that sin of having watched that Taylor Swift video too many times,” joked Hall.

In addition to its product updates, Vevo also announced a more subdued branding Thursday, and added a number of music and social media personalities to the site. This includes three hosts that will appear in some of Vevo’s upcoming original music content — think interviews and artist portraits — as well as number of curators that are going to share video playlists on the platform.

But eventually, Vevo wants to make anyone a curator. Hall said that the company is going to build out profiles and allow users to connect more directly with each other to turn Vevo into a social music platform. Getting this right won’t be easy, admitted Hall, who argued that it’s not about simply letting users connect with everyone they know on Facebook or Twitter. “Your music graph is not your social graph,” he said.

Will all of this help Vevo to turn the tide, and actually build a sizable audience on its own platform? What’s more, will it be able to steal some of its audience back from long-term frenemy YouTube? There are good reasons to be skeptical. Audiences may not actually care enough about yet another social platform, and decide to instead watch music videos through the same app that also serves up clips from their favorite social media stars.

But at least Vevo is trying — and who knows: Maybe it will get lucky, leapfrog YouTube and actually figure out how the next generation of music television is going to look like.

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