Until recently, Vimeo has positioned itself as a platform for creators wanting to self-distribute — basically a niche-oriented version of YouTube. But now, with a couple of high-profile acquisitions, the online video platform is going head-to-head with Netflix and Amazon.
Yesterday Vimeo announced it had acquired the exclusive U.S. first window download to own Alex Gibney’s “Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief” following its HBO broadcast.
The film, which recently premiered at Sundance, is based on the Pulitzer-Prize winning book by of the same name by Lawrence Wright. The film will be available on Vimeo on Demand in September 2015.
“After HBO’s exclusive holdback, we will be the only place you will be able to purchase ‘Going Clear’ digitally,” Sam Toles, Vice President, Content Acquisitions and Business Development, Vimeo, told Indiewire. The film will also be available on HBO’s various subscription services (such as HBO Go), but, Toles said, “ultimately, HBO subscribers are a relatively small portion of the overall universe and we think this film in particular has a tremendous amount of heat.”
Last month, Vimeo acquired rights to sell and rent Spike Lee’s “Da Sweet Blood of Jesus” on Vimeo on Demand before the crowdfunded film hits theater. In December, Vimeo acquired rights to Hal Hartley’s “Ned Rifle,” which premiered last fall at the Toronto International Film Festival and will next screen at SXSW.
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“We are going to be very aggressive in finding titles that are of a quality that matches Vimeo’s long-standing brand,” said Toles. “Whether it’s high profile filmmakers or indie filmmakers, we are supporting film across the spectrum. The message overall from these initial acquisitions is that Vimeo will be punching above its weight class as it emerges into becoming a major player in the digital content business.”
Though the company’s traditional business model of allowing creators to share their content via the Vimeo platform will continue, Toles said the company is branching out into new territory.
“We’re taking little bit of a different tact. Netflix, HBO and Amazon tend to use content to market services so it’s all about ‘see these things on HBO or Netflix,'” he said. “We are really focused on marketing and generating revenue for the individual titles and using those titles to profile the rest of the content on Vimeo. The point of discovery is people come in to Vimeo through a title we’ve acquired like Spike Lee’s ‘Da Sweet Blood of Jesus’ or ‘Going Clear’ and they discover the Vimeo experience is different than what they’re used to…It’s basically about letting consumers know that we exist by bringing them in through the gateway of content.”
Toles said that in the case of “Going Clear,” streaming and VOD rights weren’t available, so Netflix wasn’t competing for the documentary (although the company’s acquisitions team did attend the Sundance premiere). But he confirmed that there have been other titles where Vimeo was competing with Netflix and Amazon. “The expanding marketplace is always good for creators. It means more choices for them,” he said.