James Cornish, Vevo: Connected TV, the human touch and following eyeballs

Vevo's VP of international sales discusses the evolution of video and lessons learned from the COVID pandemic.

James Cornish, VP international sales, Vevo.

Could you tell us a little bit about Vevo and what it does?

We’re a joint venture business between Sony Music and Universal Music and, I guess, the core of what we exist to do is to distribute markets and commercialise the official music video content from every artist that sits across those labels and some labels underneath them. 

That’s the crux of what the business is and the role is primarily to maximise the marketing and promotional value of music videos. And, secondly, to maximise the commercial value of music video. We do all of those things on a global basis.

How has the pandemic affected how you work, and how much money brands are spending with you?

There are possibly a few strands to that question. The former, in terms of what we’ve seen from behaviour – we were on this trajectory anyway – but we saw this acceleration in terms of viewership via in-home devices in the living room. That accelerated from mid March 2020 and, as I said, there was an upward trajectory in the shift of viewerships into TV screens. That’s very much accelerated. 

We would now see a large portion, 30 to 40% of our consumption, now coming from TV. The backdrop of Vevo as a distribution platform comes from a desktop and, latterly, mobile perspective. We’re now orientated firmly into the television screen. So we’ve seen that sort of shift in consumerism dramatically ramped up as a result with what happened with COVID.  

Naturally, I think, from a spend perspective we were pretty reflective of the overall market I would say last year in terms of our second quarter. It was tough in the UK, but started to pick up. And we’re fortunate that we benefit from that growth in viewership, and the other attributes around our proposition.

Then advertising started to pick up again into Q3 last year, and we had a really solid fourth-quarter back to the growth trajectory we had been on. So I think reflective of the market from a commercial point of view, but accelerating out of the dip we saw in COVID. And, in the main, I would say that’s been driven by the consumption we’ve seen on television.

Where can people watch Vevo videos?

YouTube is a big distribution end point for us. But, outside of that, supporting where we’ve seen consumer uptake and consumption, has been our distribution efforts into the living room – supporting that growth in TV and driving that strategy for us as a business.  

In the UK, we are the music on-demand service for Sky Q, NOW TV and Virgin Media. We serve Apple TV, Amazon fire and others. The most recent distribution we’ve launched is with Samsung TV Plus in February 2021. We continue to build out, and explore and evaluate the opportunity for us to continue that distribution within those environments – TV screen and living room. We’re trying to be everywhere.

Vevo’s name is derived from ‘video evolution’. How do you think video has evolved since the company was created in 2009?

If you plot the journey of Vevo, we initially launched as a desktop proposition. The convenience of mobile technology enabled it to explode into mobile devices. And, I guess by the nature of our content and terms of it being short form, exploded into mobile. The last two or three years has seen that shift come back for almost full circle, certainly from a music video perspective. 

Music videos are made for the TV screen, and kind of created music television, MTV as we know it, in 80s and it’s come back full circle. It’s now being enjoyed at scale as a first port of call on the TV screen. So seeing that happen, certainly from our business, and in terms of video as a whole, the advancements in the last 10 years have created a fragmented landscape. 

You’ve seen the introduction of subscription video propositions and traditional broadcast TV models change as a result of that. That viewership is splintering and fragmenting. It’s great for consumers from a choice perspective, but it becomes quite hard and challenging for advertisers to be able to find collections of audience as they might used to have done when there were less options for consumers.

I can’t remember the last time I saw a music video on MTV.

Yeah, exactly. That’s a good point. I think they moved away from that. When I was growing up I would sit and wait for my favourite music video, record it and I would fast forward to find the music video that I wanted. Now it’s at your fingertips, isn’t it? 

So it’s completely destroyed that old model, but to the advantage of consumers and also to the benefit of the scale of music videos across the proposition. Because it’s more accessible, more available, to everyone and builds bigger audiences than it ever never did before. From our point of view that’s really exciting. If you think back to the things we’re trying to do –  market, promote and distribute it, and then commercialise it.

Why do you think connected TV has become so popular in recent years?

I think the technology advancements make it easier and encourages more natural user exploration of these services. There are more services available on the market. Things like the subscription service model have made connected television access become a bit more normal and ingrained that behaviour.  

You’ve then got the fact that people are spending more time at home than commuting and in offices, so they probably have more time with their hands to explore what’s available to them. And I think the services themselves are becoming better and more discoverable to benefit and leverage that technology, and put their content as far and wide as they can to reach as big an audience as they can.

To what extent do you think advertising on over-the-top media helps advertisers to reach younger and harder to reach demographics?

I think that’s definitely the case and it goes back to the point that I mentioned regarding this evolution of video and television to a connected TV screen. The traditional ways of using TV as a medium to reach audiences was kind of one way, through broadcast and using linear TV. You didn’t have any other options. As the services have evolved, there’s become more choice. And people, particularly the younger viewers, are migrating away from a linear broadcast, and exploring other ways and means to get their content. 

A lot of that is driven by the opportunities on OTT and connected television viewership technology and, as a result of that, advertisers need to follow where the eyeballs are going.  OTT and connected TV presents a nice foil or opportunity to mitigate against that audience that they may once have achieved through linear.

There has been a recent report published that suggests there’s a problem with gender inequality in sales teams. From your experience, have you noticed a gender inequality problem?

I would categorically say no, not in my experience. In any of the media and sales roles I’ve worked in I haven’t come across that. That’s not to say that I don’t recognise that there may be cases of this. This is well publicised and there are gaps in certain places so I’m not dismissing that at all. 

But, definitely my experience has not been like that, and we have a pretty well gender balanced sales team, and through our business as a whole. So that’s been my experience and that’s not to say the things may be different in other businesses or sales houses.

What do you feel you’ve learned from the coronavirus pandemic?

I think we’ve learned that we can be adaptable and we can get the job done remotely. We can deliver in a more flexible environment. I think we’ve had to prove that and we’ve got a good 12 months experience now and delivery to show that can happen. And the fear of not having offices, you can’t be productive, is not necessarily true. Personally I believe this last year has helped prove that to ourselves.

With sales, meeting people in person to build a connection with them is really important. Has it been difficult to adjust to not being able to do that due to COVID restrictions?

I think you’d an ideal world you would want to have that element of the human touch. That’s the bit we would miss and it’s certainly harder to build new relationships and build on existing relationships if it’s entirely through a screen. 

It’s definitely a relationship-based business. And many people operate in businesses like that. So that’s the biggest miss that we’ve experienced. And that’s the thing I’m most looking forward to, getting back to meeting customers, but also meeting up as a team. You miss your teammates and you create a bond by being with those people in person. Bringing an element of that back is something I’m certainly looking forward to.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.