“This is ours to lose”: Vimeo CTO Andrew Pile and the search to reinvent video

andrew pile vimeo broadband world forum“No one has really nailed mobile video creation in a way that makes a ton of sense,” says Vimeo CTO (and self-described ‘last man standing’) Andrew Pile, ahead of his keynote appearance at the Broadband World Forum in October. “There is no – and this is kind of a bold comparison – video-equivalent comparison to Instagram. Video on Instagram is not what I’m talking about: I’m talking about the way Instagram fundamentally changed the way people feel about capturing photos. It cannot be overstated how important that is. The level of creativity that people started feeling from a freaking cell phone is unbelievable.”

When Pile first joined what has long since grown into the world’s undisputed second largest video sharing platform, Vimeo’s upper limit was a meagre five megabytes and all the videos were about 10 seconds long. Indeed it was a mere arty off-shoot of goofy comedy site CollegeHumor, which parent company IAC bought in 2006, acquiring Vimeo in the process.

One of the most striking characteristics about Vimeo’s rise has been its refusal to lose touch with its roots as a labour of love. More recently, however, as YouTube and Vimeo increasingly turn their attention to SVOD, you can’t help suspecting it could now be the latter, with its carefully nurtured communities of creatives and consumers, that is the better placed of the two for generating original, quality content people are willing to pay for: “It really hits a sweet spot for us,” Pile concedes, “because we have so many high end creators already on Vimeo putting their work up and trying to make a name for themselves, and a lot of them have built followings. Anyone who’s serious about selling their work themselves should really be doing it on Vimeo.”

Vimeo, net neutrality & the networks

“What we’re trying to accomplish in the next twelve months is going to be very, very significant, because half of our traffic now is accessed through mobile devices,” Pile explains. “And this time next year it’ll probably be approaching three quarters. So for us it’s very much a fundamental shift. Trying to sell a premium product, especially one that’s kind of expensive, is also very difficult on mobile. Use cases for mobile are very different, their expectations are very different, and what they’re willing to pay is very different, so that’s a huge problem we’re going to have to solve.”

Speaking of paying for content: Pile has some relatively radical ideas concerning net neutrality.

“We’re very opposed to any sort of threat to net neutrality. We issued, along with about a quarter of a million people on the Internet, a statement to the FCC, which we think is actually probably quite a bit more extreme than what a lot of people are asking for. We very much think that the only way to achieve true net neutrality at this point is to basically reclassify all of these broadband providers as tier 2 providers, which means they’re essentially like dial-ups and they’re much closer to utilities, and they have to effectively provide net neutrality service. Most people are not saying that.”

For Vimeo, of course, the net neutrality debate is anything but academic…

“I think we’re in an interesting position because we are the de-facto number two video sharing platform and the de-facto number one is YouTube, and they can afford it, they have huge infrastructure, they have presence in a lot of these ISPs already, so they are ideologically aligned with net neutrality but at the same time they are also pre-positioned so that, were things not to go our way, it wouldn’t affect them nearly badly as it would us. We don’t own a CDN – we pay people for that.”

Pile doubts that Vimeo could have kicked off in the current “chilling” climate.  “I don’t think anyone would think it would be possible to enter the same arena as Netflix or us or YouTube and say it’s a level playing field.” Furthermore, he cites evidence that, when fixed viewers are confronted with buffering, they are likely to not only abandon the site – but abandon it “for months”.

“The implications on our bandwidth being slowed down or throttled are huge, and they’re very subtle. We’re not Netflix either, we’re not trying to send the same content you get on your cable box over the internet, so we’re not competing with Comcast and Time Warner, the content we’re selling stuff that they didn’t want to buy. It’s Vimeo On Demand, it’s much smaller audiences, it’s stuff you really can’t get anywhere else.”

It’s a compelling (and certainly valid) perspective: it will be fascinating to observe how it plays with the many operators attending the Broadband World Forum in October.

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