Vimeo’s creator comforts

Vimeo’s new CEO Anjali Sud explains her reorientation of the company, its move away from making original content, and how it wants to put the creator first. Andy McDonald reports.

Anjali Sud

Anjali Sud

Vimeo appointed Anjali Sud as CEO in July this year after making the difficult decision to roll back on plans to create its own original content.

Taking over from Joey Levin, the CEO of parent company IAC who had led Vimeo on an interim basis since Kerry Trainor stepped down in June 2016, Sud took up the role with a stated aim to renew focus on the core value of the Vimeo brand.

Promoted from within, Sud is familiar with the inner workings of the company. She joined in 2014 to lead marketing before being elevated in 2016 to general manager and senior vice-president, overseeing Vimeo’s core software-as-a-service business for creators – the money-making engine of the company.

Keeping the business on the right path financially is clearly one part of Sud’s plan, but Vimeo’s refocus is not a simple back-to-basics approach. While the company doggedly refuses to embrace advertising and still places trust in human curation over recommendation algorithms, it is also pushing forward on the technology front. The company has made some canny acquisitions in the past year and has rolled out new features like live streaming and 360° video support, with more innovation on the horizon.

Speaking to Digital TV Europe at the recent IBC show in Amsterdam, Sud says her “main objective is to refocus Vimeo’s energy and efforts towards serving creators first. Going back to our roots as the home and the platform that really does empower creators. It’s what launched Vimeo in the first place.”

This process of “reorientating” is partly down to market forces. Sud attributes Vimeo’s original content rethink to how the online video market has evolved in recent years – a period that has seen Netflix and Amazon alone pledge billions of dollars for original content.

“When we first set out to do our own channel we really believed we were solving a problem; we were going to be able, in a responsible way, to create content that wasn’t being seen by others,” says Sud. “Obviously with billions now being invested by multiple platforms in original content, it started to feel more and more like we weren’t doing something different, and that was needed.”

Vimeo optioned scripts and had grand plans to quickly ramp up its originals investment once work was underway. However, Sud says that at the time that the decision was made by Vimeo to abandon plans for its own shows, nothing had actually gone into production. As such, she downplays any fallout from the company’s change of course.

“It really wasn’t a major shift in terms of what we’d already invested in,” says Sud. “We did have plans very quickly to increase that investment, but we didn’t get that far. Obviously it’s always hard to shift and adjust, but I also think that we did it appropriately and it wasn’t a major problem.”

What has resulted is a clear focus on the company’s core mission – to serve video makers with a platform and tools that help them get their content out into the world, and provide a clear revenue source back to the company through its ‘Plus’, ‘Pro’ and ‘Business’ tiers. These cost from £5 (e5.60) to £40 a month and offer incremental increases in storage, user stats, support and customisation options. A Vimeo Basic option is available free but caps users at 500MB a week and 25GB per-year of storage.

Research & development

With its move away from its production ambitions, Sud explains that Vimeo has started to invest more heavily in improving its core workflow features and technology – something that she says has resulted in “pretty significant acceleration of growth” on the creator side of its platform. “What we started to see was as technology has democratised the creation and distribution of video, a much more diverse range of creators were coming to Vimeo and using us for our professional-level tools.”

Sud says that focusing all Vimeo’s efforts on helping creators felt “really natural and true to our brand”, and has resulted in a number of technological advances – ranging from 360°video support, which was rolled out earlier this year, to closer platform integration with editing software like Adobe Premiere Pro.

The latest product innovation has been the introduction of Vimeo Live, a streaming platform it launched at the end of September at the same time as it announced the acquisition of Livestream. The latter will be integrated with Vimeo, allowing content makers to capture, edit, stream, and archive live events, as well as host, distribute and monetise videos. Vimeo Live is the platform’s first move into live-streaming and targets businesses, organisations and professional creators with packages starting from £70 per-month in the UK.

Sud says that live-streaming was Vimeo’s number one feature request this year from its professional creators and businesses who use video for marketing. “We are not launching a competitor to Facebook Live or YouTube Live,” she explains. “This is about professional live events.” What Vimeo is trying to do is provide a “much more professional level of live-streaming,” Sud claims. “We heard from a lot of creators that Facebook Live and YouTube Live don’t offer the quality, reliability and control that they want.”

On the innovation front, Vimeo has set up a small research and development unit within the company, called Creator Labs, in an effort to explore interesting new avenues for the business. The company launched 360° video support at South by Southwest in Austin, Texas in March of this year and the format has started strongly on the platform. Sud estimates that Vimeo has had “tens and thousands” of 360° videos uploaded to the platform, which have gained millions of views. These span a range of genres – including music videos, animation and documentaries, with a number of non-profits using 360° video for “social empathy and social activism”.

With Creator Labs, Sud says that Vimeo is starting to experiment with other types of immersive storytelling, like virtual reality. “We want that team to be unconstrained by business or revenue targets. We just want them to be able to kind of experiment and embed themselves with creators and co-create with them,” she says.

Vimeo Creator Labs’ remit encompasses everything from gaming to the creation of virtual worlds. The goal is to determine and identify ‘what’s next’ so that Vimeo’s product team can build the right business for the future. “We’re just trying to get a pulse for what really matters to our community and then we will build around it,” says Sud. “With that team absolutely nothing is off the table.”

“Vimeo was the first to do HD video a decade ago, before YouTube. We have the experimenters on our platform, so we should be able to identify not just what’s hot right now, but what’s actually going to be hot and interesting to creators five years from now,” she adds, claiming Vimeo is “absolutely” working on support for Ultra HD and High Dynamic Range content.

SVOD for all

Livestream is not the first example of Vimeo buying a company to bolster its own service offering. In May 2016 it acquired streaming video platform VHX in order to move into the subscription video-on-demand space.

VHX, which has since been absorbed into the business and renamed Vimeo OTT, lets users launch their own cross-platform SVOD services. At the time of the deal, Vimeo said the agreement would allow it to offer a “complete streaming ecosystem” for individual creators, niche programmers and major media partners, and the lure of subscription video seems to be catching on among the Vimeo community.

“We’ve had almost 500 subscription channels born and powered through our technology and these channels are getting hundreds of thousands of subscribers,” says Sud. “It’s a totally new way to monetise that just didn’t exist five or six years ago, and it’s exciting to see that you don’t have to be on Netflix or Amazon to do that.”

Vimeo OTT has attracted a number of high profile customers to date. Lionsgate is using the service for two over-the-top offerings – comedy service Laugh Out Loud (LOL) by Kevin Hart, and movie streaming service Tribeca Shortlist. MHz Choice, a US-based streaming service dedicated to international dramas and comedies like Swedish drama Blue Eyes and German series A Dangerous Fortune, is also using the platform.

However, there is a wider pool of small and individual content creators who are turning to Vimeo OTT to launch subscription offerings around a range of topics and genres, for example fitness. “We’re really interested in seeing that long-tail continue to develop and we think that the ecosystem is going to all flourish,” says Sud. “We think that there’s thousands and thousands more SVOD channels that will come.”

Vimeo OTT costs from US$1 per month per subscriber for a content creator to launch a simple web-based SVOD service. For US$500 (e430) per-month and up content owners can turn their SVOD service into branded apps for platforms including iOS, Android TV, Fire TV, Roku and Xbox.

Top tier enterprise customers, who must contact Vimeo to negotiate a custom plan, can also add advertising to their SVOD service, after Vimeo moved to integrate ad-supported videos with Google DoubleClick for Publishers in April – the first time Vimeo has ever allowed ads.

Sud is quick to dismiss the notion that its stance on OTT service advertising could be the precursor to a wider adverting rollout across Vimeo. Unlike it’s main rival YouTube, Vimeo has never put pre-roll advertising – or any advertising for that matter – on the Videos uploaded by site users, and this will remain the case. “We have absolutely no plans to put ads on Vimeo,” says Sud. “We believe very strongly that the reason our community is so high-quality is because we don’t clutter the experience and we always put the videos first.”

Simply put, Vimeo does not need to look to advertising, as this is not a part of its business model. By Sud’s count, more than 800,000 paying subscribers use Vimeo’s video tools. As a subsidiary of IAC/InterActive Corp, the company does not break out earnings or disclose whether or not it is profitable, but Sud points out that software-as-a-service companies are “very different from a profitability perspective” to ad-supported outfits. “We’re a SaaS [company] and those are generally really good business models.”

That’s not to say the company isn’t looking to open up new avenues of revenue and ways to adapt the service. While Vimeo “sunsetted” a Tip Jar feature on the site some time ago, Sud says it is now again looking afresh at the donation or the patronage model. “We have so many creators on our platform and we have 240 million viewers a month,” she says. “If we can come up with ways to unlock that audience to help creators earn money, we absolutely will.” Sud claims that Vimeo is actively exploring a number of ideas, including connecting creators and businesses through a marketplace-style model.

Vimeo’s CEO is keen to stress that Vimeo will remain creator-driven. Asked where she sees Vimeo in an increasingly crowded and competitive online video space, Sud describes a platform where stories start and are stored, where collaboration takes place and users get inspired. She also hints at a future where Vimeo takes an active role in helping content makers distribute to other platforms; a service where users can react to insights and data from that distribution in a single place.

“That doesn’t exist exactly today, but that’s the role I think Vimeo should play,” says Sud. “We should be the independent home for creators and helping them find an audience on and off Vimeo. We should be agnostic – the Switzerland for creators. While YouTube and Facebook battle for ad dollars and eyeballs we really want to stay creator-first.”




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