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UMG Pulls Music Videos From MTV Over Vevo Dispute

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Fans of Universal Music Group artists visiting MTV.com are finding that the site suddenly no longer has music videos available from most of the label group's artists.

According to sources on both sides of the issue, the missing videos are a result of a breakdown in licensing talks. UMG had been licensing music directly to MTV for years, but is now directing all licensing negotiations to the Vevo joint venture, which also includes Sony Music Entertainment as a stakeholder, while EMI licenses music to the player.

According to sources close to the situation, MTV’s existing licensing deal with UMG had expired and Vevo was leading the renegotiation process. But an as-yet defined “hang-up” scuttled the talks and UMG responded by pulling its content. That’s affected not only MTV.com, but also the websites for VH1 and CMT. The impasse does not affect music videos playing on MTV’s cable network channels, just online properties. Also, there seem to be a handful of UMG videos still up, such as for those artists nominated for MTV Music Video Awards.

MTV issued the following statement when contacted by Billboard: “For almost 30 years, we have enjoyed long and colorful partnerships with all the music labels, including UMG and their talented roster of artists on MTV, VH1 and CMT. As the industry evolves, we continue to seek out new and innovative ways to connect artists with their fans that are mutually beneficial to everyone. However, during our recent discussions with Vevo, we were unable to reach a fair and equitable agreement for rights to stream UMG artists’ music video content. As a result, UMG has elected to pull their music videos from our web sites. We are disappointed by this move and sincerely hope that UMG will work with us toward a fair resolution and allow their artists to once again connect with the millions of music fans who visit MTV.com, VH1.com and CMT.com every month.”

A UMG statement on the matter reads: “MTVN has been unwilling to negotiate a fair syndication deal with Vevo to carry our artists’ videos and consequently our videos will not be shown on their online properties. We believe that using Vevo as our online music video syndication platform is the best way to maximize revenue for our artists, our songwriters and ourselves, while bringing our videos to the widest possible audience. In less than 8 months since its launch, Vevo has already become the web’s #1 rated video network with over 49 million unique visitors monthly, dramatically eclipsing those on MTV’s online properties, while attracting scores of major advertisers and tens of millions in advertising dollars. As a result, our artists are enjoying tremendous exposure on Vevo on YouTube and Vevo.com, and will enjoy even more as Vevo continues to complete syndication deals supplementing the existing arrangements with leading destinations as AOL and CBS Interactive.”

Vevo CEO Rio Caraeff said talks remain ongoing. “Vevo has been in negotiations with Viacom, including BET and MTV, as a syndication partner,” he says. “We are still in negotiations with them. We hope to one day power videos we have under license for MTV properties just like you can with CBS or AOL or YouTube.”

How this affects Sony, as a Vevo stakeholder, remains unclear. If Vevo and MTV can’t come to an agreement, it seems only a matter of time before Sony follows suit and pulls its content as well, although there’s no indication yet that will be the case. The state of Sony’s current licensing deals with MTV is not known, and Sony has not yet replied to requests for comment. Billboard will update the story once more details are available.

The timing of the dispute is interesting: It comes barely a month after MTV finalized a deal to sell ads around music videos owned by Warner Music Group. That deal gives MTV exclusive rights to all of WMG’s ad inventory, including that on YouTube, WMG websites, and MTV. That deal also means that all WMG video spins will be counted as MTV traffic, regardless of where the views take place.

WMG, obviously, is the only major label not participating in the Vevo venture, and sources say there’s no sign that the label will capitulate anytime soon.

It could be some time for the issue is resolved and when UMG led the formation of Vevo, it was a direct shot against longtime partner MTV.

Here’s an excerpt from an interview with MTV Networks president Van Toffler at Billboard’s Music & Money conference, held last March in New York.

What advice do you have for Vevo?
We want them to be successful. As I said, we need stars, we need the industry to work. We’re symbiotic with the industry, across all of our different channels, so we’d love for them to work. The only advice I would give is, history has kind of told us what has worked on the Internet is primarily a compelling consumer proposition. As opposed to a business proposition morphing into a compelling consumer one. I think if they continue to integrate and get the product great, and get the content great, it’s got a real shot.

There’s going to be an obvious impact on how MTV plays music videos online now, because if you want to license videos, you’re going to have to do so via the Vevo aggregation hub. Is that something you plan to do?
We’ve had no problem getting videos. We expose more videos to people than Yahoo, AOL, and Vevo. And our traffic's growing, so I don’t really anticipate we’re goingt to have a problem getting the videos. We’re also going to create great content around the artist and the narrative around the artist and also we haven’t really unlocked the great visual history we have in music across our channels around the globe, which we’re slowly going to do.