Vevo redesigns to become MTV for the online generation

Over the past two years, Vevo has become the default place to watch music online. But, like many other streaming video providers, it had a problem: For users, the act of watching videos tends to be a very disjointed process.
Users search for something they want to watch, find it, watch it and then have to search for something else all over again. Most sites have recommendations when the videos end, but they can be hit or miss — and they tend not to be very personal, not reflective of a user’s viewing history or his social graph.
I’ve written about this a lot in the past — about how the success of streaming video will be driven by improved discovery and through the implementation of a more TV-like playback experience where the user doesn’t have to continually search for the content he wants to watch.
Anyway, the latest update to Vevo tries to solve this issue, and it actually succeeds. I got a demo of the site the other day at Vevo’s headquarters, and not only does the new site look gorgeous, but it succeeds at doing what very few online experiences have even attempted thus far, which is to make online viewing more like TV viewing. Rather than have to deal with the stop-and-start of most streaming video experiences today, Vevo builds a continuous playlist of music videos based on the first artist you choose to listen to. It’s kind of like Pandora for music videos.

That makes watching music videos on the new Vevo kind of like what MTV was like back in my childhood. For those who remember the channel during the 80s and early 90s — before it became inundated with reality programming like The Real World, Road Rules and eventually Jersey Shore — MTV was the place to watch videos of your favorite bands and get introduced to cool new artists along the way. Now Vevo could be that place for the online generation.
Here’s the really cool thing about it, though: You’re not forced to listen to all the same Top 40 dreck that’s playing on your local radio station. Instead, Vevo will play back videos based on your personal preferences, and also allow you to discover new music videos based on what your friends are watching.
That functionality is powered by Facebook Connect, which Vevo uses to figure out what music you like, as well as highlighting connections from your social graph. By analyzing the publicly shared information about bands you’ve liked, Vevo builds a playlist of artists. You can also connect your iTunes account to enable Vevo to know which artists you have in your personal music library, giving it more data to go with and enabling it to build a separate iTunes playlist.
Facebook connectivity also means that you can see what your friends are watching, providing a powerful discovery engine for new music. That said, if you’re not into having everyone know you watched the latest Justin Bieber video, it’s easy enough to turn social sharing off, with the click of a button. The tradeoff is that you can’t see what everyone else is watching. Hmm. Decisions, decisions.
All in all, the update is designed to keep viewers tuned in, and I think it works. Maybe it’s just that I got to see the thing demoed on an actual TV rather than tuning in to the beta site on a laptop. But I could see myself and others watching Vevo the same way they watched MTV. And for music lovers who don’t really have anywhere to get that experience anymore, that’s a very good thing.
Frankly, Vevo isn’t the first site to enable social connections or recommendations based on your Facebook information or even to build continuous playback experience based on all those things. Sites like VHX, and — the latter of which, like Vevo,¬†focuses specifically on music videos — have had those features for a while. And YouTube(s GOOG) has experimented with the same, through its Leanback and Cosmic Panda experiences.
But Vevo is the first real mainstream video site to build that experience as its go-to way of viewing, and to make streaming video more like TV. All of which could serve as a blueprint for the broader online video industry.