AOL launches “Cambio” – Will tweens tune in?

In the midst of cutting its losses on social network Bebo, last week AOL launched a new music venture called Cambio– a partnership with the Jonas Group and production company MGX Lab to deliver exclusive video content for artists like The Jonas Brothers, Demi Lavato, and Jordin Sparks. The initiative is part of a new AOL content strategy under CEO Tim Armstrong and president of Media and Studios Davis Eun (both ex-Googlers) to reorganize the company around high-quality TV-style content.

Cambio programming features an array of webisode style shows like “Nick In London,” which follows Nick Jonas as he joins the cast of Les Miserables, and “Cambio Cares” where stars ask fans to get involved in humanitarian efforts. The site also includes “Cambio Connect,” a daily MTV inspired news and updates webisode hosted by ex-MTV VJ Quddus.
Although the content is in its nascent stages and fairly limited in scope for now, Cambio clearly aims to offer a highly branded experience beyond those YouTube typically offers artists and viewers. The “Cambio Cares” series for example uses the call-to-action “Join The Surge” to simultaneously rally community service and support for Clean & Clear “Morning Burst Surge” skin product endorsed by the show’s star Demi Lovato. Clean & Clear also receives prominent placement throughout the page layout for the series.

Nick Jonas Sr., father of the Jonas Brothers and head of the Jonas Group, is quick to point out YouTube and MTV’s limitations, and AOL is offering a partnership that is potentially more lucrative to artists by cutting out the middle man and giving more control on content and branding efforts. On the flip side, Cambio doesn’t have nearly the built-in audience YouTube does, though AOL is counting on star power to give Cambio a jump start. In fact Tim Armstrong has announced that because of brand sponsorships, the site was profitable from its launch date.

Although savvy viewers may prefer YouTube’s less invasive banner and in-video ads, the tween audience will likely be unfazed by Cambio’s heavy-handed branding. If AOL is wise, it will test the Cambio approach and then apply it to a variety of other artists that may may have a longer shelf life than the Jonas Brothers and their current Disney-friendly peers.

With record sales declining and a drowning music industry scanning frantically for a rescue boat, Cambio points the way to a possible future for artists looking to maximize monetization of non-musical content. That said, count on YouTube to step up its game around artist partnerships and branded efforts to stave off any exodus of artists using YouTube as their primary video platform.

The bottom line is that out of necessity, musicians and labels will start demanding more of a return on their online video content. The company that gives them the best combination of branding opportunities, viewership, and artistic control may find itself at the heart of the new music industry.