Services & Software

Indie-darling filmmakers: Vimeo has $10M with your names on it

In a bid to get exclusives on the most promising videos, the hosting site earmarks $10 million to directly invest in films that premiere at top festivals or garner $10,000 in crowdfunded support.

screenshot by Stephen Shankland/CNET

In a bid to get an exclusive hold on the most promising content it can, video-hosting site Vimeo is taking the Kickstarter ethos of directly connecting fans with creators and flavoring it with a dash of Netflix -- and $10 million.

The company is carving out a $10 million fund to directly invest in films that either premiere at one of the top 20 US film festivals or garner $10,000 in crowdfunded support on sites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo, in exchange for giving Vimeo a window of time as the only place you can go to see the videos through its Vimeo On Demand pay-for-play platform. For the filmmakers, the investment takes the shape of direct payments for that exclusive license and marketing support, including Web site development and translation services. (In addition, anyone who qualifies to be is in the running for investment can get a free Vimeo Pro account.)

It puts big bucks behind tactics Vimeo experimented with last month, announcing a $500,000 program to support crowdfunded films and giving 13 Toronto International Film Festival filmmakers $10,000 up front for an exclusive digital distribution window. It also takes a page out of Netflix playbook of directly licensing darlings of the festival circuit as "originals" as a lure for new subscribers.

Vimeo is most succinctly described as a high-brow YouTube: you're more likely to see videos with film-festival logos encased in laurel branches rather than an appearance by a cat or somebody tripping in their underwear.

You're also not going to see video ads. Unlike YouTube's primarily ad-based revenue model, Vimeo makes much of its money by charging for subscriptions. A $60-a-year subscription frees your viewing from banner ads and gives you more hosting space for uploads, while a $199-a-year subscription known as Vimeo Pro lets you upload high-quality video and get access to tools that package and sell it to viewers through the Vimeo on Demand feature. Vimeo also gets a 10 percent cut of the pay-for-play sales.

The tack is gaining momentum. Unique viewers in December reached 130 million, a nearly 60 percent increase from a year earlier, and mobile viewers almost tripled in 2013.

Kerry Trainor, chief executive of Vimeo, said the strategy is lucrative for the creators too. "We see creators earning tens of thousands of dollars on their way to earning six figures," through Vimeo on Demand, he said. "That's a much more powerful path for them to build a livelihood, rather than a larger scale and lower revenue from an ad-based platform."

He said the $10 million is part of Vimeo's overall invest plan for the year ahead. "This will be the year that we begin to invest meaningfully in content," he said.

Filmmakers who believe they qualify for the Vimeo investment fund or a free Pro account can visit Vimeo's site for details.