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VIDEO MAN: When will Condé Nast launch its own channel on YouTube? Unlike competitors Hearst, Meredith and Time Inc., the publisher did not partner with Google last year to produce one of YouTube’s shiny new original programming channels. Fred Santarpia said Wednesday the new division’s digital strategy will be broader than just YouTube, exploring distribution options on other platforms, including taking a “hard look at Facebook.”
“At the end of the day, we don’t think the video world revolves around YouTube. We want to be as flexible as possible in figuring out where our audience is,” he said. “We’ll take a 360-degree look at the marketplace and figure out where the opportunities are.”
Santarpia, one of the founding executives of the music video Web site Vevo, had just been anointed chief digital officer for Condé’s new entertainment division, headed by Dawn Ostroff.
Though he said it’s too early to say how Condé Entertainment will build an online video business, his experience at Vevo is likely to color the new division’s plans.
That’s partly why Ostroff tapped him. “His knowledge and expertise will be extraordinary assets as we build and extend our iconic brands onto various digital platforms,” she said.
Vevo, owned jointly by Sony Music Entertainment and Universal Music Group, launched in 2009 as a distributor of music videos, primarily on YouTube, and piggybacked on the site’s explosive growth. One of its savviest moves early on was to take control of labels’ music videos to sell ads against it, said David Burch, communications director at TubeMogul, a video marketing company. Before, people would watch music videos that others, not the labels, had uploaded.
“To the user, it didn’t change much,” Burch said. “All it changed was that they had more music videos at their disposal and they were able to engage users where they were already.” Similarly, Santarpia is tasked with developing original programming for the Web based on Condé’s brands and stories.
Burch said the division has a rich opportunity on its hands, but one that’s challenging because it’ll mean loosening some of the independence Condé’s fiercely independent magazines have long exercised.
“That’ll be tough,” he said.
Santarpia’s also bringing with him some of Vevo’s ideas about diversification. Last fall it launched a new app on Facebook that powers hundreds of profiles of high-profile artists, Justin Bieber and Lady Gaga among them, and more recently, it created an app on the Xbox game console. Santarpia said this was a strategic decision that’s paid off. In April, Vevo had 49 million unique viewers in the U.S., according to comScore.
“We think there are a lot of consumers out there who want to interact with video in different environments,” he said. “Some people like to go to YouTube and Facebook. Part of Vevo’s mission was to be in as many places as possible.”
It was also an acknowledgment of a shift in online traffic trends — 30 percent of Vevo’s video views were coming from outside YouTube, and that percentage is expected to increase to 50 by the end of the year, chief executive officer Rio Caraeff told Ad Age in April.
Vevo’s ubiquity separates it from publishers, which, for the most part, offer original video only on their own sites or as part of YouTube’s original channels, Burch said. Last year, Hearst launched two channels on YouTube around its fashion and enthusiast titles, and Meredith has Digs, a home and design channel.
Condé itself has a negligible video presence, with only a few brands — Teen Vogue, Condé Nast Traveler — on YouTube. Santarpia said he jumped from the ascendant video site to Condé for the chance to build a business from the ground up. Conversations with Ostroff, who’s been slowly filling out her executive team for the past eight months, began at least a month ago, Santarpia said. His job is to figure out where Condé can go digitally. For now, he still has many questions himself.
“What content are we going to be creating daily, weekly and monthly. What are the tentpoles?” he asked. “We need to figure out the overall strategy first.” His first day is July 2.