How Vimeo Pivoted Away From Original Content and Found its Niche

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Industry-watchers know Vimeo has redefined itself multiple times in its quest for profitability, and in a talk this week CEO Anjali Sud explained why the company pivoted away from OTT and toward video creators.

Sud was interviewed by Bloomberg TV host Scarlet Fu Tuesday night, as part of CornellTech@Bloomberg, a live series of conversations with technology leaders. Sud spoke on several topics during the hour-long discussion, including how she helped Vimeo find its path.

"The reality is most people today still think of Vimeo as a destination to watch videos, or sort of the high-end YouTube," Sud said. "The reality is we have changed. We are a software-as-a-service technology platform and we aren't a destination as much anymore as we are an enabler for you to get your videos out there everywhere. That's why we have integrations with YouTube and Facebook."

Not long ago (under a different CEO), Vimeo was preparing its own subscription video-on-demand (SVOD) service. Following the explosive growth of Netflix, it seemed like a natural fit for a popular video site, and Vimeo announced it in November 2016. But before the service could get off the ground, Vimeo nixed the idea in June 2017.

"I think that that made sense as a strategy to explore. During the time that I was there, though, I think it became really clear that look, the stakes in original content, people were investing billions of dollars in original content and there were all these other platforms out there that were solving that need for audiences," Sud explained. "What I saw, I think where we eventually went, is everyone was focused on the viewer experience over the content, but what about all the people that had to make that content?"

Even a few years back, it was clear there was a glut of OTT services, and plenty of companies with deep pockets that could fund original content. But what no one was doing was serving the creators, especially small creators who needed to find footing. Small creators and businesses had always been the heart of Vimeo, so orienting the company to their needs made sense.

"Let's focus on the people behind the camera. I think what we found is that a definition of a video creator had changed. It used to be you had to be a filmmaker or an AV professional and now it's really everyone—everyone with a phone," Sud said. "In particular, what we found there was desire particularly among small businesses and even large businesses and YouTube stars, there was a lot of desire to create professional quality video because audiences expect it. Your audiences' expectations have gone up, and suddenly now if you want to have a video strategy as small business, you need to be creating video for social media that has a shelf life of five days and that video has to be engaging and high-quality."

The stakes have changed, she noted. The technological barriers have been lowered so that anyone can get the tools to shoot quality video, but people don't know what next steps to take. How can they improve their video? Where should they post and distribute? That's where Vimeo stepped in.

"You can do so much when you're really clear about who you serve," Sud noted. "When I stepped in as CEO, it was really to focus Vimeo on being, what we say internally is 'creator first,' which means every decision we make is always through the lens of the creator."

The feedback Vimeo has gotten shows that it's addressing a real need, she said. Producing quality video at scale and succeeding with it is still a huge challenge. That's what Vimeo solves, and the reason Sud is so excited about her company's strategy.

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