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VOD for Everyone? Vimeo's Blake Whitman Tells Us About Opening Up Self-Distribution With Vimeo On Demand

Photo of Alison Willmore By Alison Willmore | Indiewire March 12, 2013 at 12:24PM

Vimeo's announcement today at SXSW that the company is launching a self-distribution service has the potential to be a major tool for independent filmmakers. Vimeo On Demand will allow any members of Vimeo PRO (a $199 a year service) offer up their work for rent or download, taking a 10% cut after credit card and Paypal fees. Creators have control over the timeline for and regions in which their work will be available and are able to set their price point and offer their videos and films via Vimeo or their own websites. In combination with services like Gathr and Tugg, self-distributing your film in theaters and VOD now seems a far more accessible prospect. Indiewire caught up with Blake Whitman, the company's VP of Creative Development, in Austin to talk a bit more about the new service.
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Vimeo's announcement today at SXSW that the company is launching a self-distribution service has the potential to be a major tool for independent filmmakers. Vimeo On Demand will allow any members of Vimeo PRO (a $199 a year service) offer up their work for rent or download, taking a 10% cut after credit card and Paypal fees. Creators have control over the timeline for and regions in which their work will be available and are able to set their price point and offer their videos and films via Vimeo or their own websites. In combination with services like Gathr and Tugg, self-distributing your film in theaters and VOD now seems a far more accessible prospect. Indiewire caught up with Blake Whitman, the company's VP of Creative Development, in Austin to talk a bit more about the new service.

Was allowing filmmakers to sell their work always part of the plan for Vimeo?

I think it's a natural progression -- we've been a platform for video creators to share and distribute their work. Distribution has different meanings for different people -- and for filmmakers that means actually selling and seeing revenue for work that they're making. Vimeo on Demand, that's the next step of self-distribution. We make tools for individual creators -- how can we help them make money for what they do? We think we're in a great place now with the platform we've created and the audience that we built to really take a step into that arena and hopefully help filmmakers all over the world.

"What we don't want is everyone to just turn on a paid button for all the the content they've created."

Who are your competitors in the space? YouTube has an offering [YouTube Rentals, which is still in beta].

What's different from YouTube is that ours is completely open, so anyone with a Vimeo PRO account can create a VOD page, sell their work, choose their price, choose the regions they want to offer and the time that it will be available, make it look beautiful, then push a button that says "publish"... and it's open to the world. That totally open flexible platform is what makes Vimeo unique. Vimeo PRO is an offering for creators for all part of the workflow, so if we close the circle for their video needs, then we're doing a good job -- this is another step in that direction.

Vimeo previewed this service with the launch of six films [including "Beauty is Embarrassing" and "We Are Legion"] late last year, was what the response to that like?

It was great -- we got a ton of feedback, both from the creators and from the viewers about what they expect to see. Adoption of something new takes time -- people are used to short form free content, and now we're offering long form paid content. What we don't want is everyone to just turn on a paid button for all the the content they've created. You have to be a PRO member, you have to go through the process of actually creating a beautiful page, you have to have a trailer, you have to have a poster -- these are all things that are going to help with discovery. Why would I want to buy something I don't know anything about?

We want people to spend that time and spend that effort to make their VOD page beautiful. For Vimeo, there's this amazing engagement that's occurred with audiences -- we want to facilitate that communication and to engender this idea that the audience is not just passive anymore, they're engaged and can connect. You're not just buying a piece of entertainment, you're supporting someone who's making great art and in exchange you're getting great work.

What led to your bringing in Don Hertzfeldt as the kind of flagship adopter of the service?

He's a great example of someone who was doing self-distribution his own way, has a great community built around his work and whose films are amazing. We thought that was a great example of someone who was doing this himself -- that's what we're trying to do. This is just the first step, we're launching a set of tools and we have all this amazing stuff we're going to launch later, so we're going to listen to the creators, how people are using it, what they want, and iterate.

In order to help faciliate this, we're giving 90% of the revenue to the creators, which we think is a great draw for directors. You don't have to do it one way. If we give the majority of the money back to the creators, they'll make more and they'll have more money to make their next films, and that's exciting to us. We want to facilitate that as much as possible.

How does the 90/10 split compare to other options that are out there?

iTunes takes 30%.

But iTunes isn't structured to make it easy for individual filmmakers to get their films listed.

Yeah, you have to have a distributor or another partner. Amazon's the same thing, it's one prescribed way, it takes eight weeks to do. Vimeo On Demand, you can set it up in an hour, hit publish and the world can start buying it. We think it's a great split. And when we launch our product, we love to set it up, see how it works, continue to add stuff to it -- that's what we've done for a long time. We think it's going to be really attractive to filmmakers.

Is there a minimum price and a maximum price you can set for a video?

Minimum price is a dollar, maximum price is $500. The reason for the $500 is that this is an open platform, anyone can sell any type of video content, so that's for educators -- any type of instructional video can go in there, say, a series on motion graphics or Cinema 4D. That's good for filmmakers too, because a lot of filmmakers are educators. and if they can sell how they do their craft, that's great for everyone and allows them to continue to do what they do. It allows the audience to learn and engage, so everyone's making more Vimeo videos. The education content is something we're really interested in seeing what happens with.

"It's disruptive in the fact that it's totally open, but it's not a game-ender for any of the other parts in the industry."

Do you see this service as something that'll also be used by companies? Maybe a small distributor?

The split is intriguing for a lot of people. We're already talking with distributors -- the cool thing for distributors and even film festivals is they can then become curators. Festivals have a big incentive to get their films out to the world -- so, they can become curators on our platform and sell work they are involved in or have some sort of deal with. It's disruptive in the fact that it's totally open, but it's not a game-ender for any of the other parts in the industry.

Vimeo has its place, and it's opening up a little bit to more professional film content, which we expected we would get to anyway -- the technology's caught up to where you can stream a two-hour movie and it's fine. We've been partnering with TV manufacturers to have our apps on Apple TV or Vizio and Samsung, so when you purchase this content, you can actually watch it on the big screen at home, it doesn't just have to be on your monitor. Anytime someone purchases a video, it goes into your "Watch Later" queue so you can automatically watch it when you get home.

I'd imagine most people will find videos via the creator, but how else will someone on the site be able to browse and find their way to films they might not know about?

We're going to editorialize content as well. We do for Staff Picks -- that's our channel for featured short form work. We feature long form work there too, anything that's free. We're going to have a directory and search and discoverability through our Vimeo On Demand page, but the other great thing is that Vimeo is a giant organic recommendation system based on other people like. Our like button in our player is persistent, and VOD is integrated into that. Another aspect that sets Vimeo On Demand apart from iTunes and Amazon is that you have this built-in audience talking to each other and recommending things to each other that's contextual to what you like and the people that you know and connect with. We've been focused for so long on tools for creators, now we're starting to venture into tools and a platform for viewers, which is a byproduct of the former. We have 100 million people coming to Vimeo, how do we galvanize and fit that into the fabric of the site? We have a litte bit to figure out, but social discovery is going to be really big.

This article is related to: Filmmaker Toolkit, Interviews, Vimeo , South By Southwest Film Conference and Festival (SXSW), Blake Whitman