Vevo, Universal Music’s Hulu for Video, Gets a Salesman

david kohlVevo, the music industry’s attempt to create a Hulu-like hub for its videos, is going to attract a lot of eyeballs when it launches later this year. Here’s the guy who’s supposed to attract advertisers: David Kohl, a former Nokia executive who starts work today as the site’s sales boss.

Kohl’s job is a key one at the venture, whose premise is that the music industry can do a better job of selling its video inventory than sites like Google’s YouTube (GOOG). Vevo is a joint venture owned (for now) by Sony (SNE) and Vivendi’s Universal Music Group; YouTube will help power the site and will share in some of its revenue.

In theory, there could be a lot of dollars to go around. When Vevo opens its doors later this year, it is expected to generate some 450 million video streams a month. In theory, the fact that a single company will control the way the videos and displayed and distributed will make those streams more attractive to advertisers.

vevo-logoBut there are plenty of skeptics who think the site will flounder, in large part because the music industry has never figured out how to run a successful consumer business, and the media business has a terrible track record when it comes to joint ventures. In Vevo’s favor: They said the same thing about Hulu, and that has been a success, at least operationally.

Kohl will run a six-person sales team he intends to expand, people familiar with Vevo’s strategy tell me. Up until now, Vevo head Rio Caraeff has been overseeing sales himself — and learning on the job, since he didn’t have any sales experience of his own. Vevo now employs about 45 people.

At Nokia, Kohl ran the company’s interactive ad group; he has also put in time at Viacom’s MTV Networks, Vivendi Universal and Comedy Central.

Tablet Schmablet: How About a Mud PC?

092209ATDgizmodoThe Wondertablet the guys at Gizmodo showed off last night looks cool. But you can’t actually touch one right now unless you know someone very connected at Microsoft (MSFT).

You know what you can touch? Today? How about a PC you control by shoving your hands in a box full of mud?

Seriously. All you have to do is get yourself to New York’s Nolita neighborhood and drop by Gizmodo’s annual gallery show, chock full of cool, weird and often gloriously useless gadgetry.

Among other geegaws on display: An automated pancake maker, some spark-emitting and dangerous-looking Tesla coils, a “Star Trek” tricorder and a videogame that dispenses beer. And, of course, an array of Apple (AAPL) paraphernalia, including some arts-and-craftsy iPhone cases.

The free show, which runs through Sunday, is mostly a labor of love on the part of head gadgeteer Brian Lam. But I gather it’s now making some money, via sponsorships, for Gawker Media’s Nick Denton. (And if that’s the case, I hope Denton uses some of that money to make sure there’s enough power and air conditioning at next year’s gallery. Also maybe some cots for his charges.)

Lam gave me a mini-tour yesterday afternoon, which I filmed with a Flip camcorder. If want to to see for yourself (it’s much less shaky that way), drop by the gallery at 267 Elizabeth Street.

Live From New York: Yahoo Introduces “You”

newyahooUnless I’m told otherwise, I’m only going to do this once. But for the record, Yahoo is going with the following spelling for its new slogan: “It Starts With Y!ou”. I don’t think that’s going to fly with consumers or copy editors, but we’ll see.

Also undetermined: Whether there will be any news unveiled at Yahoo’s press conference to roll out said slogan. But I’ll be here for you just in case. And in the meantime, you can find glimpses of the coming campaign at the bottom of this post.

Boilerplate intro remarks from Yahoo (YHOO) CEO Carol Bartz, followed by CMO Elisa Steele. Steele shows off a venn diagram that shows the intersection of “my world” and “the world”. Yahoo, apparently, is that intersection. “That’s where the Yodel is”.

Steele reminds us that this is Yahoo’s first global marketing campaign. That’s old hat for Microsoft (MSFT), and something Google (GOOG) has never done. Ad campaigns will roll out in 10 countries, branding campaign will be in all territories.

Steele runs through some imagery that will be used in campaign. Yahoo users, apparently, comprise many races and creeds. But all of them are buff and/or skinny. Unless they’re pregnant. A video ad, meanwhile features an upgraded Yodel.

OK. Time for Q&A:
Onstage: Bartz, Steele, EVP Hilary Schneider, Tapan Bhat, SVP Integrated Consumer Experiences, Penny Baldwin, SVP Global Integrated Marketing and Brand Management.

What’s budget for campaign? Steele: “Over $100 million”.

Status of ad market? Also, what *won’t* you sell?

Schneider: Starting to see a stabilization. “Wouldn’t go so far as to say as we’re seeing a full recovery.”

Bartz: We’re still “bumping along the bottom”. Re: sales – dodges/reframes question, talks about “focus” instead. “We’re just revisiting everything… Is there anything you won’t sell? Of course”. But no specifics. Will improve photo, video, “much much better e-mail.”

Please talk about launch of Google Ad Exchange and its threat to you. Schneider: “The reality is that the display marketplace is fragmented”. Our exchange (RightMedia) is biggest, but its intuitive that there will be other exchanges. “We welcome Google”.

Why do a relaunch at all? Are consumers actually unhappy? Or is it just advertisers and press and investors carping? Bartz: “Advertisers follow consumers” and we need to “build circulation.” By doing this approach, “we get really good micro-insights for our advertisers.” Doesn’t explain how that will happen, though.

Steele: “Consumers want more from online advertising”. They’re asking for it. Whu?

What about video plans? Bartz: “Video snacks” crucial to consumers and advertisers. “A big emphasis” inside Yahoo. A “big cornerstone of our strategy”.

How long will campaign run? How will you measure success? Steele: Funded for 15 months, and I expect it will run longer than that. Vague answers about management.

Some chat about search, which formally debuts today.

Will there be product-specific ads? Yes. Steele: Launch of campaign in each market will start with brand, and over time you’ll see more product ads, as “people get familiar with Yahoo again.”

One more time: Is Zimbra being shopped? Bartz: No comment. But “What I will tell you is that Zimbra technology is very very important to our mail system, and that’s one of the prime reasons that Yahoo bought Zimbra when it did….[but] the technology is already integrated into our system.”

How is this campaign different than other campaigns? You’ve had a lot of campaigns in the last 15 years. Steele: I haven’t been here in past, but I’ve reviewed every campaign that has been done, and this is radically different, because it’s more than a campaign. Carol and Carol’s staff are all behind the concept of you. Everyone’s on board. “If this was just a marketing campaign or a slogan, then we’ve really failed.”

Bartz: This should remind of you the past, actually. That’s not a bad thing. On search: Search has evolved from “10 blue links” days. I view background of search much like an Intel chip, which everyone uses. But Dell experience with that chip different than HP experience, etc. We’re stable at 19% of search business, because our users are on Yahoo, and they’re like Yahoo search. “Yahoo search is great. It’s not Bing, it’s Yahoo search… What’s most important is that we drive upstream and provide a great experience, even though the plumbing is down here.”

Do users really like to customize their search (premise behind overhauled home page)? Bahat – core group of 15% of users really into customization. Most other people say they want that, but aren’t willing to do the work. So we’re doing incremental customization on home page. “This will be something that keeps growing over time.”

Will you be integrating text messaging and other short-messaging services into home page? Bahat: Yes.

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AOL: More Org Chart Shuffles Coming; So Are Ad Dollars. But Mum on Microsoft.

092009ATDaolIt’s Advertising Week in New York! Which means that for the next few days, ad sellers will be meeting, greeting and buttering up ad buyers in hopes of prying some of their dollars free. Just like every week in New York.

One difference for the likes of me: Big ad sellers are making themselves very available to the press. This morning, for instance, AOL sent out CEO Tim Armstrong, sales boss Jeff Levick, sales deputy Erin Clift and content boss Bill Wilson to poke at eggs and ignore a plateful of bagels and lox.

Oh, and they talked, too! The big message was that they’re still in the process of overhauling the Internet giant on behalf of Time Warner (TWX), which brought in Armstrong from Google (GOOG) earlier this year and says it still plans on spinning off the company by the end of 2009.

Afterward, I got a brief interview (along with PaidContent’s David Armstrong) with the AOL chief. The video is at the bottom of the post, and you may need to turn up your speakers to hear it. But the takeaways are:

  • AOL is still looking for a chief marketing officer. The search is in the “early stages.” Do you know anyone? Internet experience is not a prerequisite.
  • More org chart moves, like the one that saw COO Kim Partoll pushed out last week, are coming. They’ll be part of the internal review process Armstrong has dubbbed “Project Everest,” which should be complete by the end of the year.
  • So are layoffs. See above.
  • Internet ad dollars are beginning to flow out again–or if they’re not flowing, Armstrong thinks they will be, as big marketers like Procter & Gamble (PG) make permanent shifts in their advertising mixes.
  • Armstrong professes to be surprised by a report last week that he had met with Yusuf Mehdi, who runs Bing and MSN for Microsoft (MSFT). “I know Yusuf. I’ve known him personally for years. So if I saw him I would be happy, but….”

Is YouTube’s Biggest Star Ready for the Big Screen?

fredWho’s going to be the first Web star to make it to the movies? One alarming possibility: Lucas Cruikshank, better known to a staggering number of YouTube viewers as “Fred.”

Fred is one of those weird cultural phenomena, like Rascal Flatts or the Wiggles, that are hugely popular in some demos and unknown in others. So while you may have never seen him, he was until very recently the biggest star on Google’s (GOOG) video site, and has generated more than 300 million views.

And now, a movie? I’ve yet to hear about anyone committing to financing, and/or distributing one, but Tubefilter has found what it says is a casting call for a Fred-based flick. That makes no sense to me, but then again, I thought “Beavis and Butthead” wouldn’t translate to the big screen, and that worked pretty well, in my humble opinion.

Then again, in my humble opinion, this stuff is unwatchable. Be warned:

Ann Curry Grills Ahmadinejad: “Did You Steal This Election?”

Curry AhmAnn Curry sat down with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad yesterday for his first interview since the Iranian elections and the unrest in Iran — and got some revealing non-answers from him. Did he steal the election? “I don’t know what you mean by that.” Was there was any scenario under which Iran would develop nukes? “We do not see any need for such weapons.” Were Iranian dissidents tortured? “It’s possible. I don’t have such information.” What did he think about the death of Neda? “We’re treating this as a suspicious death and we are very sorry about this. And I’m sure that the truth will come to light.” And then there was this: “I don’t know what you mean by ‘no.’”

Ahmadinejad has always been a slippery interview, and a circuitous, verbose speaker to boot. Curry was obviously prepared for this and came in with tough, tenacious questions that left him semantically squirming. The one disappointing part was the lack of follow-up on the Iranian post-election violence — holding his feet to the fire about the government response, the forcible quelling of dissent, the arrests and imprisonments, the coerced public apologies. This is a partial edit so no doubt there will be more to come, but still — these are obviously the highlights, so it looks like Ahmadinejad did not give any more ground on the protests. Curry did get him squarely on the “stealing the election” question (ouch) and pinned him down like a laser on the “Are there any circumstances under which you would develop nukes?” question – for all his verbiage, he would not say “no.”

That said, he also came out in support of “fraternal love and happiness.” So there’s that.

He also talked about how he felt about President Barack Obama and said that the three American hikers imprisoned in Iran for wandering across the border “need to be punished.” So there’s that, too. Clip and partial transcript below; full Curry-Ahmadinejad interview after the transcript.:

On stealing the Iranian election:

ANN CURRY: Inside and outside of Iran, people are questioning the legitimacy of your presidency. So, it is important to ask you, Mr. President: did you steal this election?

TRANSLATOR: In Iran — in Iran, expressing ones point of view is fully permissible. It’s free. And if a person has an opinion to express within the confines of the law they are free to express such opinions. I don’t see any problems.

ANN CURRY: Would you like to answer that question more directly, given that it is a question that people around the world has asked? Would you like to address the question, “Did you steal this election, sir?”

TRANSLATOR: I don’t know what you mean by that.

ANN CURRY: Did you create conditions so that you would win no matter the vote?

TRANSLATOR: It’s very clear. Whoever becomes a candidate will start a campaign and will do his utmost to win. I think we should be courageous enough to accept the vote of the people. It’s more courageous than participating in the vote itself.

O-kay. “Whoever becomes a candidate will start a campaign and will do his utmost to win.” I think that about covers it.

Here’s Ahmadinejad on the post-election violence:

ANN CURRY: Human rights organizations estimate 4,000 people were arrested in these protests. Some are still missing. There are reports of torture. There are even reports, Mr. President, that some women protestors were raped in prison. Your government has acknowledged that some protestors were killed. You often speak of compassion here inside Iran. The question has to be asked, where was your compassion for your people?

TRANSLATOR: First of all, all of us regret the fact that some people were killed. Two, the police officers and those who accompanied the officers were killed. Their numbers were higher than others.

That stat — or claim of a stat, rather — seems a little fishy to me. This is all the interview/transcript has on this though — I can’t imagine she didn’t follow up there so we’ll check the extended transcript and update accordingly.

And then there’s this, reminiscent of wondering what the definition of “is” is:

ANN CURRY: Are there conditions under which Iran would weaponize?

TRANSLATOR: Well, nuclear arms, we believe, they belong to the past. And the past generation. Today, what brings power to a people is cultural and human power. Cultural influence. Human logic.

ANN CURRY: So, may I assume, then, your answer to that question is, “No.”

TRANSLATOR: My response to what question?

ANN CURRY: Is there a condition under which Iran would weaponize?

TRANSLATOR: We don’t need such — we don’t have a such a need, nuclear weapons. We don’t need nuclear weapons.

ANN CURRY: So, the answer is no, sir?

TRANSLATOR: I don’t know what you mean by ‘no’?

ANN CURRY: I’m asking if there are any scenarios in which you would change what you say is your course and move into creating a nuclear weapon. Am I correct that the answer is no?

TRANSLATOR: We do not see any need for such weapons.

ANN CURRY: You know, it — people will remark that you did not say no, as I’ve asked you three times the same question. You did not say no. Are you sure you want that to be your final answer, sir?

TRANSLATOR: Well, you can take from this whatever you want, madam.

Translation: Nuclear arms belong to the past, except when they belong to the future. Okay then.

Update: Here is the clip of Ahmedinejad talking about the hikers, followed by the full, 53-minute interview:

Ann Curry’s exclusives first aired on NBC Nightly News, followed by NBC’s The Today Show.

How to Make Money With Web Video: Books and DVDs

old jews telling jokesEric  Spiegelman has a Web video hit on his hands. “Old Jews Telling Jokes,” a series of short clips featuring exactly what the name suggests, is popular, viral and cheap to make.

Alas, it’s not profitable. Spiegelman says he spends considerably less than $1,000 for each one-minute episode, and the 50 episodes he’s made so far have generated some four million views since February. But advertising for the series, sold via Web video distributor, doesn’t cover his costs.

Spiegelman is pretty sanguine about this, but I find it a bit frustrating. We’re several years into the Web video era–almost three years after Google (GOOG) bought YouTube–and this is the kind of stuff that should work by now. It’s original, ad-friendly, and made on a shoestring budget. If that can’t work, what will?

In any case, Spiegelman can afford to wait a bit for things to right themselves. His company, Jetpack Media, is a unit of indie movie studio Greenstreet Films, so he has a bit of a cushion while he figures out how to crack the code.

And in the meantime, he’s hedging his bets by using his Web series as a way to get back into old media, where you can actually get paid for stuff you make, in advance.

Spiegelman has repackaged the first season of his clips into DVD form, which will be sold by First Run Features (you can pre-order the first disc for $19.95).

Next up: A book deal with Bertelsmann’s Random House, via its Villard imprint, with photos from Gawker contributor Nikola Tamindzic (anyone who follows the blog-to-book minimarket will not be surprised to learn that ICM agent Kate Lee brokered the deal).

And Spiegelman can imagine other ancillary products down the line. Perhaps an audio show based on jokes that people submit via a hotline. Use your imagination. Which I guess is what you have to do if you want to make a living making Web video in 2009.

Oh, the videos themselves? They’re a lot of fun. You may have heard of a few of the joke-tellers–former New York City Mayor Ed Koch is a contributor/performer, as is real estate mogul Harry Macklowe–but the rest are fairly anonymous types who have a way with a story and a punch line. Below, a quick interview I taped with Spiegelman last week, and below that, a few of the joke-tellers themselves (Warning! These feature a couple of judiciously chosen curses).