Plugging into PluggedIn

It’s been almost six months since launched a better kind of visual music experience. PluggedIn streams high-definition music videos on-demand and counts three of the four major labels among its licensees. MTV never looked this good.

But now that Web-surfing music lovers have tuned into PluggedIn these past few months, the company is assessing its strengths and weaknesses as it continues its quest to be the Internet’s go-to music video site.

"We had terrific, terrific feedback from consumers about the quality of the videos that we were serving up, the way they can connect with fans on the site," PluggedIn CEO Jeff Sommer told Pollstar. "They really like the community features, and they generally just liked the overall user interface, the experience they had on the site. They felt it took them to a whole new level, probably more in line with how they wanted to experience their music online."

What were users asking for? Basically, more content. Sommer, who spent nearly eight years developing music, books and video departments at Amazon, said users loved what they saw at an artist’s page on PluggedIn but wanted more information and content.

"So, with that in mind, we went back into our shop here and we’ve been retooling the site," Sommer said. "In the last couple of weeks we’ve rolled out a vast number of changes.

"For starters, the home page has been pretty radically redesigned. We’re now really focused on five videos of the day, and we’re going to continue to build this site out where every day we’ll feature what we think are really important videos. So we’re just starting now to begin our programming efforts in those areas."

But highlighting five videos every day was just one of many tweaks for PluggedIn.

"We announced a partnership with Rolling where we are now publishing all of Rolling Stone’s news stories on our site, and we’re also starting to present a lot of their video content," Sommer said. "And this is an area where we’ll continue to push forward over time, and we expect to work with more and more writers on the Web who are interested in finding another platform to promote their writing to compassionate consumers of music."

Another new PluggedIn feature is the ability to share videos with other sites, most notably social networking sites. Clicking the "share button" while watching a video brings up several destination options under the title "Post," including MySpace, Facebook and Blogger. With the share feature, users can embed a video link into their own social network pages and, well, share the vid with friends.

If the predestined share links don’t excite you, there’s also a "Grab It" option that functions pretty much like other video Web sites by providing the URL and the embedded code, thus making PluggedIn a video service providing content for other sites as well as its own.

"We’re big believers in the idea that people definitely want to engage in content where they are already spending time with friends. If we can make that easier to do, then that’s what we’re going to do," Sommer said. "In addition, where we go in the future, and the kind of areas we’re investing time in today, we’re certainly looking at ways that we can bring the PluggedIn experience more to those sites."

When PluggedIn launched in April it had deals with three of the four major labels. That’s still the case as the company continues negotiating with Warner Music Group. However, despite the lack of a blanket license from WMG, PluggedIn has been able to include some videos from selected WMG artists. According to Sommer, WMG seems to be very excited about the site, saying, "I think it’s more of a matter of getting all the right people involved and pushing it over the finish line."

PluggedIn is ad-supported, but hasn’t filled up its pages with banners and pop-ups. While ad support is very important to the folks behind the site, perfecting the high-def video experience is currently job No. 1.

"You’re not seeing a lot of advertising on the site as of yet, because our focus really isn’t on selling ads at the moment," explained Sommer. "It’s really on creating a great product for the consumer. What we’ll see probably in the fall are some more efforts on our side and some more initiatives to create some very interesting advertising opportunities."

How does the music industry view PluggedIn? Sommer said reaction has been very positive, especially from music professionals wanting a better solution than just throwing videos up on YouTube. And that’s always been one of the core descriptions of PluggedIn – that it offers a better viewing environment than YouTube, or any other video site on the Web.

"They might have their stuff on YouTube, but the quality isn’t there." Sommer said, quoting what industry pros and artists have told him. "The user experience we’re looking for isn’t there. The way I can reach out and address my fans isn’t there. And you guys are really solving that for me. This feels like a site that’s set up for artists, for labels to really, really do something different and unique."

One of PluggedIn’s minority investors has a pretty high profile in the entertainment biz –

Overbrook Entertainment, which was started by actor / rapper Will Smith. Overbrook is also a strategic partner, helping PluggedIn acquire content as well as explore other opportunities, including entertainment "verticals" such as film and television. With connections like this, coupled with high-definition music videos, community features and content from a variety of sources, PluggedIn is poised to lead rather than follow as it clears its own path through the often tangled and confusing world that is music on the Web.

Meanwhile, Sommer is thinking about the future.

"I’m really excited that in 60 to 90 days we’ll be launching other features out there," Sommer said. "I think there’s going to be a lot of cool stuff we’re going to do that will excite our fans and excite our partners and will certainly help to drive awareness and traffic to PluggedIn, which should be a lot of fun."