VEVO is the leading music video and digital entertainment platform which was founded in 2009 and allows users to watch music videos, live music concerts and original lifestyle programming through VEVO.com and our free apps for mobile/tablet and TV.. With over five billion monthly views globally, VEVO recently had its first video to attract 1 billion views, in the form of Justin Bieber’s single, Baby. Last September, Jonathan Carson joined VEVO as CRO with responsibility for the company’s global sales force and sales partners. Carson came from an entrepreneurial background having established three businesses from scratch, before the latest was acquired by information and measurement company Nielsen, leading to Carson spending six years there as CEO of digital practice.
Entrepreneur turned Intrepreneur
Carson admits he had “no idea what I was doing in the business world” when set up his first company aged 21 and learnedthrough “painful experiences”.
“The down side is that you are making all your mistakes on your own dime and you have limited mentorship. The upside is that from the very beginning you get an incredibly strong grounding in getting things done and it’s a path that more and more people are taking, going into entrepreneurial ventures without that much formal business experience,” he said. “The concept of entrepreneurialism has become the cultural phenomenon – it’s set up as an aspirational thing to be.”
Carson says that in order to be a successful entrepreneur you have to have a certain risk profile, a level of cool-headedness and persistence as “entrepreneurialism is a series of mistakes and successful entrepreneurs are the ones who learn how to recover from these mistakes”. He saw other people working away in big companies in the “corporate machine”, yet while they were very good at what they were doing, it was difficult to pinpoint what they had actually achieved.
It was therefore a surprise to no one more than Carson when he spent six years at Nielsen. In 1995 he co-founded music industry website OuterSound.com, before founding interactive development firm Intercities Inc. From there Carson co-founded and became the CEO of social media intelligence company BuzzMetrics, which was acquired by Nielsen in 2007.
“I thought I would be at Nielsen a year or two and then say something stupid in a meeting and get kicked out of the company as is supposed to happen of entrepreneurs when they get acquired but I actually had a fantastic experience,” he said. Carson puts this down to Nielsen setting the entrepreneurs that were acquired up for success.
“A week after the acquisition I was pulled away from BuzzMetrics and they gave me a series of challenges that were totally new to me. Most of my time at Nielsen was spent working on the international business and I’d never done anything outside the US before. These challenges helped me grow tremendously as a leader and made it a place I wanted to stay for a long time,” he explained. A focus on leadership development and organisational strategy was the single biggest thing he took away from the company.
Having decided to take a year off, he only made it half way through the year as the opportunity at VEVO was too good to turn down. Carson knew that when he left Nielsen his next role would be within a smaller company where he could go back to his entrepreneurial roots but which also had global scale. He also had a great interest in the area of the converged online video and television space predicting that it was an ecosystem that was “going to go through massive disruption in the next decade”.
VEVO was therefore a “perfect fit” and he says the opportunity at VEVO is even bigger than he realised. “It’s an incredible growth story. The company is only four years old and we are already the largest global music platform, the largest global online premium video platform so we just have this tremendous scale, but it’s happened in such a short period of time.”
A shift to mobile for digital entertainment
The largest area of growth for VEVO is mobile. When it launched in 2010, 98 per cent of the views were on desktop and this has dipped to 40 per cent in the US market meaning virtually all the growth has been from mobile and now connected TV.
“Going from almost 100 per cent PC business and to just two years later you’re majority mobile, it’s a massive, massive disruption. It means we have a different type of user base, it means we have our product teams focussed on a completely different set of solutions, it means our go-to market strategy with advertisers is completely different and to have all that compressed into just a couple of years was exciting but very disruptive,” said Carson.
He explains that in order to keep up with the pace of change, you have to embrace it deeply. Connective television is only five per cent of VEVO’s total views at the moment but they are devoting a substantial proportion of their product, organisational development and leadership time into it as the organisation believes it will be the next big wave.
“Having the courage to make that leap of faith before the data really supports that shift is what you need to do to stay ahead and be the ones creating the innovation as opposed to responding to the innovation,” he adds.
Preparing for growth
Growing at such pace means it can be tempting to just get ‘butts on seats’ in terms of recruitment. However, Carson says it is vital to ensure that they are bringing people into the organisation who can make “massive tremendous impacts within the business”. He stresses that it also important to have alignment at the top about the mission, values, strategy, what needs to be done to deliver the strategy and what organisational structure needs to support that work to get it delivered. “I think as long as you stick to that sort of logic then the growth is controlled,” he adds.
Carson says that the potential end goal for VEVO is enormous. They envisage the $300 billion global television market will collapse with the digital market space and will become one big open marketplace. “The fact that we have extremely strong content is very unique and clearly very appealing to consumers. We’ve built a very big distribution footprint with our relationship with YouTube and other syndication partners and now with the app platforms and we are building out a world class sales function – we think we are a company that is built from the ground up to capture a substantial share of that market as it evolves into this converged market-place,” concludes Carson.