VEVO, the Web’s MTV, is winning the music wars

VEVO, the music video portal that launched in conjunction with YouTube and a number of music labels in December of 2009, is bringing back the glory days of music videos. And, based on its meteoric rise to the top of the online music charts even after a shaky at best launch, it’s working.

In December, VEVO had 35 million visitors to its site, and 13 billion videos viewed across all of its sites, mostly from YouTube (where VEVO has a branded channel), making it the largest music site on the Internet only a month after its launch.

It’s almost like we’re back to the good ol’ days of MTV and the endless stream of music videos that adoring fans voted on and watched over and over.

The easiest way to understand VEVO is that it is to music videos what Hulu is to TV shows: a corporate (in this case record labels) founded, ad-supported way to aggregate and serve up videos on the Web. Instead of having to wade through all the user-made junk on YouTube to find the real, high-grade and high-quality music videos, VEVO’s channel features only label or artist-produced videos, with great sound and video quality (though not HD yet).

Thanks to the good quality and selection of videos, VEVO is a great place not just to watch videos, but to create a personal jukebox or party playlist of music videos. VEVO makes that easy, allowing users to create, save, and share playlists up to 75 videos long. There’s also my closet-singer’s favorite feature: a lot of videos can be synced with lyrics, vastly improving your karaoke skills.

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For most users, actually, the experience of watching music videos won’t actually change much. Videos on YouTube will be VEVO-branded, and there will be links to the VEVO site and artist channels, but finding, watching, and commenting on videos on YouTube won’t actually change much. It’s a clever move for VEVO and YouTube, easing the transition and not forcing users to switch to something new and different.

VEVO is supported by a number of major record labels, with more joining all the time—it appears labels are going to stop having their own channels on YouTube, instead using VEVO for distribution. VEVO sells all the ads for the videos, and while watching videos I’ve seen everything from pre-roll ads to the next-to-video ads YouTube users are used to. Since the content is all so high-grade, VEVO can charge more for ads, meaning more money for labels, VEVO, and YouTube (who’s hosting, and showing, nearly all the videos). VEVO’s premium content deals are certainly one of the biggest steps yet to making YouTube profitable.

VEVO’s not really something I thought I’d ever need, to be honest – and I know Anthony agreed with me. Having used it for a while, though, it’s useful to me for the same reason Hulu’s my source for TV shows: I can probably find all the content elsewhere, but having it all in one place, in high quality, and in a way the companies support is pretty great. Instead of wading through all the slow-loading, crappy-looking and illegal options, VEVO and Hulu are well worth the few seconds of advertising you have to sit through.

VEVO’s success is proof there’s a huge market for premium content still out there—we’re not all just looking for camera phone-shot videos on YouTube. It’s also proving that the music industry can stay afloat, even while making its content free to users, if it does it in a smart and appealing way both for users and advertisers.

VEVO’s not perfect, certainly: Since it only runs official videos, it isn’t quite the “all your music in one place” portal I wish it were. It’s also not available everywhere yet (though through YouTube, most videos are widely available). But the Hulu/VEVO model is proving successful and will likely extend to other industries in need of a lifeline. Hulu for newspapers, anyone?

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