It’s always a pleasure to come across a web video that’s hosted on Vimeo. The player’s a little nicer looking than YouTube’s, it screws up less often, and, on the whole, there’s a much better chance that the clip in question is going to be something that’s genuinely cool. I mean, people getting hit in the groin with soccer balls is cool; gorgeous time lapse videos of national parks are cool. It’s the place where people go--both video creators and video consumers--to avoid the flotsam of YouTube. Two new tools, Tip Jar and Pay-to-view, stand to further cement Vimeo’s status.
Tip Jar is pretty straightforward: Vimeo Plus users now have the option to put a small green Tip Jar button below their videos, allowing viewers to donate a sum of their choosing via PayPal. It’s hard to imagine the new functionality resulting in a windfall for many budding filmmakers, but I wouldn’t be surprised if some of the more life-affirming clips actually bring in a little money (anything with the Northern Lights should be a good bet). The main reason Tip Jar might actually work is because of how closely content and creator have always been linked on Vimeo’s platform. Uploaders get a small thumbnail avatar, which goes a long way to establishing a bit of an identity compared to YouTube’s simple text byline, and it’s common to see artists jumping into the comment section to answer questions about their ideas and techniques.
Dae Mellencamp, Vimeo’s president, told me that this sense of community is one of the reasons Tip Jar makes sense for the site. "The conversation that occurs around videos on Vimeo is so respectful and positive, and doesn’t go down the rabbit hole, as it were….We’re a social media site, and there is a very direct connection with people." But Mellencamp also thinks the time is right for such a shift. "We’ve had people asking for ways to monetize for a long time," she explained, "and we’ve wanted to do this for a long time…[but] the propensity of people in the online space that we’ve seen over the past two years, through things like crowdfunding and Kickstarter, to support even just an idea, and to want to have that direct connection to support things they appreciate, has grown dramatically." Where Kickstarter lets you support an idea, Tip Jar lets you support a completed work.
Still, while online payments have gotten much easier over the last few years, they’re still not as easy as pulling a few crumpled bills out of your pocket and throwing them in someone’s guitar case. Most people don’t love using PayPal, and the pervading gut feeling that online payments are still sort of a hassle, even if it’s not entirely true, will probably keep tip totals from truly reflecting how much people are enjoying videos--and how much even those viewers would admit that enjoyment is worth. Plus, video makers won’t be too happy about the 15% service fee that Vimeo’s taking off the top of every monthly payment (in addition to the $60/year fee required for Vimeo Plus membership). The new service, while it may help creators, is just as much a new source of revenue for Vimeo--a necessity given its choice not to go the advertising route.
But Vimeo’s other new feature has the potential to be far more disruptive than digital tips. Starting next year, the site will let users charge a set price for viewing their work through a feature called Pay-to-view. Now, viewers probably won’t be ponying up to see clips of the aurora borealis, no matter how majestic. But Mellencamp says that the monetization options opened up by such a feature could significantly expand the types of works we’re used to seeing in Vimeo’s creative ecosystem.
"Think about how many full-length feature films go to film festivals but don’t get distribution deals," she told me. "That’s content that won’t necessarily go up on Vimeo right now--it can, we have the space--but I think as the filmmaker who made the piece, without some system like this they might try to hold onto it, or do it later. We think this gives an outlet for work like that." But it’s not just the festival circuit rejects that Vimeo stands to pick up; it’s any video work that doesn’t fit into one of the media industry’s rigid little boxes. "Typically you have to live within a full-length feature, with a minimum of 90 minutes, or you have to be within the television format," Mellencamp continued. "So if what you want to do doesn’t fit that, be it length of episodes or number of episodes, we think this will allow people who are very serious to be able to do that."
Essentially, Pay-to-view would let anyone pull the same coup that Louis C.K. managed with his direct-download stand-up scheme last year. Circumventing the distributors and other middlemen, the comedian made a full-length comedy special available on his personal site for a reasonable price of $5. After just 12 days, he passed a million dollars in sales.
Of course, not everyone is Louis C.K. Aziz Ansari is currently trying the same $5 direct-download experiment, and I’m pretty sure it hasn’t been a million-dollar success. But it does seem like there’s a significant stable of films that could do well standing on their own on Vimeo, as opposed to being snapped up by a middling distributor and relegated to a dark corner of some On Demand menu. We’ve seen record labels scrub music videos from YouTube and reinstall them in Vevo, a more exclusive destination where decent quality is guaranteed and the price of admission is sitting through a pre-roll advertisement. Vimeo’s new features could make the site a similarly attractive destination for more polished work, a home for all the videos that artists were reluctant to release into the wilds of the web. For viewers, that’s a good thing: We stand to get cool films alongside our cool clips.
[Hat tip: Cool Hunting]
[Image: urfin via Shutterstock]