The New Vimeo

On September 19, Vimeo launched a major first with an announcement that the web distribution platform would start helping its members make money with Tip Jar and Pay-to-View, two new marketing tools available to video creators and co-producers. This change could make a big difference to many Vimeo contributors, as well as to the platform itself, which remains firmly committed to supporting the work of the 13 million members who make up its online community.

“Creators have asked us for quite some time to help them monetise their work, but we think it needed an approach that put the controls back into the hands of the creators themselves,” said Vimeo president, Dae Mellencamp. “We designed these tools to allow video creators to be as flexible as possible while providing the ability to financially succeed at various levels of viewership.” (source)

Crowdfunding and microfinancing

“Tip Jar” and “Pay-to-View” are part of the recently developed Vimeo Creator Services Suite that’s now available to the Plus and PRO pay-to-upload accounts, which to date represent the company’s main sources of revenue. Up to now, in fact, Vimeo, with its advertising-free platform, has been financed mainly by content creators. Subscriptions to the Plus and PRO accounts are US$59.95 and US$199.00 per year, respectively. In deliberate contrast to YouTube, whose strategy is based essentially on sharing advertising revenue, Vimeo now offers a model that’s a cross between Kickstarter-style crowdfunding and conventional VOD. Though primarily a pitch for contributions from regular viewers who appreciate quality films, it’s also a way to extend the commitment of the creative community.

Tip Jar, as its name implies, allows creators to ask for contributions from online viewers with a single click before, during or after a screening. This function is consistent with the platform’s curatorial and editorial spirit that’s key to the Vimeo community and its reputation. In 2013, starting with a beta version, the Pay-to-View service will be built as a box office for access to paid content. Vimeo’s policies for commercials, advertising and political messages will remain unchanged, and clips of this nature will be barred from the site by the editorial team. In all cases, Vimeo will require payment by credit card, retaining 15% of all receipts and contributions.

With a “you take control” approach that defies conventional formulas, creators will be able to build their own marketing mix using any or all of the existing tools or those soon to be available: pricing, free promotional products for paid items, positioning on dedicated channels and more. With Tip Jar, for example, a viewer who likes a particular video can “tip” its creator anywhere from $1 to $500. With the Pay-to-View option, a creator can offer some episodes for free, while charging for the rest of the series. These models have been used extensively in the digital music and online news sectors, and are beginning to be used by bloggers as well.

More coming soon

Initial reactions by creators solidly committed to the platform have been very enthusiastic, and these tools appear to perfectly match the needs many of them have expressed for years: to find tools that respect the viewing experience and extend community involvement, continue the platform’s tried-and-true curatorial function and enable financing for future productions, spinoffs and more.

The next phases, apart from introduction of Pay-to-View, should focus on making these functions available in mobile versions (nearly 50% of all screenings will eventually be watched on mobile devices), “smart TV” versions and Apple TV. Vimeo is a “slow video” portal, and must take advantage of all the different viewing options regardless of whether fans are watching clips on a large screen or tablet.

The Vimeo model could present a few legal issues for creators and producers looking for funds to put their next clip up on the platform. Legal clarifications have also been needed when creators have used crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter. Rules may have to be spelled out when and if stakeholders see a need to establish “territories” for different platforms, for example, in a case of funding for a project that is simultaneously streamed over a number of platforms.

It is possible as well that some projects may not find it so easy to set a “fair price.” It will be very interesting to see whether or not creators and producers can agree to cooperate on their pricing structures when Pay-to-View is introduced – plus other tools that Vimeo promises to release with equal fanfare in the very near future.

Suzanne Lortie
Suzanne Lortie holds a diploma in production from the National Theatre School of Canada as well as a MBA from HEC Montreal. She became a professor at Université du Québec à Montreal in July 2012. She has also worked as a production manager and line producer for television since 1992 (major variety and cultural series that won several Gémeaux and ADISQ awards, documentaries) and is a consultant in new media strategies.
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