TubeFilter Event: Vimeo’s New On Demand Service

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Vimeo has launched a new direct-to-consumer video on demand program and I had the opportunity to a get an inside view the TubeFilter event “Transitioning from Free to Paid in Online Video” held a few nights ago in Los Angeles. About 200 people gathered to listen to a panel discussion led by TubeFilter’s Drew Baldwin.

The panel consisted of Vimeo Director of Marketing & Distribution Peter Gerard, Wong Fu ProductionsPhilip Wang and Wesley Chan, and Supergravity Pictures founder Marc Hustvedt.

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While the event flirted dangerously close to a promotion for Vimeo’s new on Demand service, it was worthwhile to get an overview from Vimeo’s Peter Gerard about the new service. For those who are not yet familiar, Vimeo On Demand is a Vimeo’s on-demand system for selling video direct to consumers.

While the willingness of people to pay for online video on an ala carte basis remains unproven, Vimeo clearly sees it as inevitable.  The program they have put together is sure to get the attention of content creators: Vimeo takes only 10% of sales and allows content creators to dictate all pricing.  Compared to Apple’s 30% slice of anything funneled through iTunes and the strict pricing models Apple insists on, this is very attractive.

However, it should be noted that creators must have a $199/year Vimeo Pro account to participate in Vimeo On Demand.  It’s my guess that Vimeo’s business plan for On Demand is to enable the market to be flooded with content off of which they get a 10% cut and initially make their money from an increase in Pro accounts.

(Apple’s lack of transparency in terms of who viewers are was also cited as an issue.  Regarding the launch of their film “Everything Before Us,” it was said that “Putting it into iTunes would be like shooting the film into an abyss.”  Apple is notorious for not sharing information with their content providers.)

Presuming the market emerges, Vimeo will probably then create a tiered payment structure where top performers get the larger cut and laggards will get a lower percentage.

Crowdfunding as a Catalyst.
“It’s hard to move an audience to buy,” said Supergravity Pictures’ Marc Hustvedt, underscoring the point of the whole session.  “They are trained to consume for free.”

To this, Wesley Chan made the interesting point that the rise of crowdfunding has “established the notion that things cost money.”  Wong Fu ran an Indigogo campaign to fund their film “Everything Before Us“.  They raised awareness among 6,678 people, raising 179% of their $200K budget.  (Side note of interest: Philip Wang cautioned that they had to set aside a “significant” amount of the money to make good on rewards.)  “Everything Before Us” is available now on Vimeo On Demand.

The Promise of Traffic
As with all aggregation services (Vimeo, Youtube, iTunes, etc) there is a heavy underlying promise of traffic.  According to Gerard, Vimeo’s Curators and trending algorithms will highlight certain videos.  While data is hard to obtain, it’s my experience that the vast majority of the organic traffic on aggregator sites goes to those that float to the top.

Let’s take a look at a sample of videos with stats available right now. Natalie Neals‘ short film Seashells is the first video listed under “Videos We Love.”  Stats show healthy viewership since being uploaded on 6/24.  The spike of 6/30 probably corresponds with the being featured on the Love page.  Many of the videos on the page and those that follow show spike activity.

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Not that there’s anything wrong with this.  With an estimated 22 million visitors per month, those curated pages are an ideal way to get viewers involved with the site.  However, one doesn’t have to dig too deep to find videos that are flatlined at a few (or fewer) views per day.  This all goes back to our old friend Findability.  Nothing online get visibility if it can’t be found.

Point being: posting your film or video to any service is not going to absolve you of the responsibility to market it.

Will Vimeo On Demand work?
Vimeo certainly has the gravitas to carry this off, as long as the willingness to pay emerges.

As Philip Wang pointed out, while Wong Fu Productions was accumulating an audience 2.5 million strong on Youtube, they always felt that Vimeo was more of the quality play. This is a sentiment heard time and again from people in the film industry.  Vimeo is about quality (both technical and content) and Youtube is more about cats.

The Netflix success can’t be counted on to be a precedent.  While I (and 59 million others) pay at least $7.99 a month for Netflix, the difference is that we aren’t paying for individual films.  We are paying for everything within Netflix whether we watch one episode or binge 24 hours a day. I suspect that Vimeo will find a need to create a similar model and that they will be challenged to make it fit with what they are already promising the community.

But, when it’s all said and done, I think I agree with what Marc Hustvedt said last night: “The game right now is can any of us make a model that will enable us to go onto the next project.”

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The crowd on hand at the TubeFilter event