Vimeo on 10 years of Staff Picks & building its huge growth: 'we are not trying to control our audience'

Vimeo's SXSW cinema entrance

“Not much lasts for 10 years online so the fact that we have made it this far is a testament to the Staff Picks initiative,” says Vimeo’s director of curation, Sam Morrill while discussing a decade of the platform’s premier channel.

Sitting with the chief marketing officer, Harris Beber at the company’s venue in Austin, a renovated hostel takeover that now looks more like a temporary cinema, Morrill talks about the need to ensure his creative community of 70 million members is continually supported. During South by Southwest (SXSW) it will play host to a number of talks and interviews with some of Vimeo’s top talent, including a session with Danny DeVito and his family.

Staff Picks, a channel curated by a team of five, has showcased over 12,000 videos over the decade since its inception and launched a number of movie careers, including Jordan Vogt Roberts, who helmed last year’s Kong: Skull Island and ‘The Daniels’ who were behind the much-lauded Swiss Army Man from 2016.

Each month, the platform attracts around 280 million viewers, according to Beber, to watch the latest video content produced by the talent that covets the audience of Hollywood producers and brands seeking visionaries to lead their latest productions.

“We are here to celebrate those videos and the creators behind those videos. Vimeo’s strategy has always been ‘creators first’ so this is as much a celebration of the videos in the channel as it is the creators who made those videos. If you look at those 12,000 videos you can really trade the evolution of Vimeo as a platform as well as the video creative community in general. The early videos is a representation of what people were doing with digital video, which was more rudimentary and more like vlogging, whereas today the picks are more likely to be jury prize winning festival shorts, which are highly innovative. So as Vimeo has progressed, so too have the creators themselves,” explains Morrill.

“The origins of the Staff Picks channel coincides with the launch of HD, so we were the first channel to support HD Vimeo which led to an influx of Vimeo creators coming over to upload their content, so we created the channel to sift through all that content which was coming through and to highlight it on the homepage and say ‘if you are a professional video creator this is where you should be.’ It’s not so much about what is the most viral video but what is the best credit or most innovative video technique at any time? So as Vimeo has grown, we try to iterate upon our tool-set to create new tools for creators based upon that.”

A year ago, the company introduced 360 degree video hosting, and continues to iterate with news tools being developed for its creators to utilise. Asked about the recent addition of sharing options to the platform’s content, Beber explains that its come from the recognition that viewership is key for its community, and that due to the fragmentation of modern viewing habits, they need to reach audiences.

“For us, creators always come first and viewership is fragmented so you don’t get to control where you audience lives and since we are creator-first, we really want to give them what they need to help reach their viewers, whether that is on a social network or on Vimeo and really democratizing how they reach those viewers. That differentiates us as a platform - we are not trying to control our audience. Some of the social networks are much more of a walled garden and we need to help our creators succeed wherever that is and giving them those tools - everything we do is of the mindset of the creator and what they need to be successful,” he explains.

Asked about the looming presence of Netflix and Amazon, Beber says they are not streaming competitors as Vimeo sees itself as providing a service to its creators.

“For filmmakers looking to make that leap in their career - Vimeo is the best place to do that,” he states before discussing the platform in respect of recent brand safety concerns that have plagued other video streaming sites in recent months.

“Because we are ad free, businesses, brands, agencies use our player - it’s the cleanest player and a customizable player to embed anywhere on the internet - it goes back to distributing to reach your audience. It doesn’t have to be on Vimeo, it must be where people want to see it live and that’s Facebook, YouTube and everywhere the audience is. Because there is such a short attention span, it’s really important to give that freedom to our viewers. We are not trying to say you have to live with us because that’s not how you succeed and it’s not how the world works.”

He continued: “People use us as a clean platform because of our security preferences that we have and who sees our videos and the tools if you want to create a channel if it’s OTT on TV or mobile - all of that exists in our echosystem. Having a clean security, controlling how your audience sees the content and the quality, is really important to our creators who spend their lives investing in it and it is all encompassing and you want to make sure you are displaying that in its best light and you want to do that without it being stepped on by some pre-roll or an ad which you have no control over.”

Despite being 'ad-free' the platform does offer advertisers their own brand channels which feature content from the likes of Coca-Cola, Rolex, Cannon, GE and Bacardi.

Asked about what the future of the platform could be, the pair can’t entirely say, but they do know that it will continue to offer tools to its creative community to experiment with to develop highly engaging and emotive short films.

“It’s about really leaning-in to our creator community and building the tools that are meaningful to them. 10 years from now I don’t know what that is going to be but we have always been at the forefront. Video is going to be 80% of internet traffic so people who aren’t on the video wave are going to be miles behind. It’s the most engaging format, it’s language agnostic, it could be in any language or format. Video gives people the opportunity to tell a story in a meaningful way to engage with audiences that no other format does and we are going to set our creators up to be successful by giving all our creators the tools they need to reach those audiences,” explains Beber.

“We have a natural network effect, so hoping our creators reach brands and connecting and we will help them further those conversations. Brands find really talented creators so helping further those conversations. Not knowing the future but AR and VR are all things we play with daily - how do you scale that? We don’t know if the audience exists but we’re going to give our creators the tools to work and play with that. The likelihood is that our creative community will likely determine the use case for that and really make it relevant to the people who are viewing."

Morrill adds: “Most brick and mortar film festivals have been traditionally the place for the best short films and short documentaries and animations - but on the internet, other than Vimeo Staff Picks there hasn’t really been anywhere else to do that and we will continue to raise our standards and bring in as many diverse voices as we can and give them a home and we feel we have done a good job of that.”

The venue at SXSW includes recreations of a number of the channel’s most successful movies from the last decade, including ‘Curmudgeons’ by the DeVito family, a movie featuring the paintings and creative process of Jim Carrey and a film around the environment disaster that took place in Cleveland after it launched 1.6 million balloons into the air in 1986, which ultimately landed in the sea, killing sea life, and people, in turn.

Jim Carrey: I Needed Color from JC on Vimeo.

For more creative inspiration, see The Drum’s regularly updated Creative Works platform featuring the latest advertising and design work from all around the world.

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