VI Power-Sixer: Vimeo’s Kerry Trainor Blazes a Trail for Paid Video

For a minute there it was an edgy time to be a video platform. In fact even if a company tried to establish itself as a platform for video creators it was invariably branded in reference to YouTube — the French YouTube, the premium YouTube, the indie YouTube, the YouTube wannabe.

And as all of these companies struggled to sort their identities in relation to YouTube, Vimeo, which actually launched before YouTube in 2004, plugged along positioning itself as the home for the premium indie creator.

With the right vision, and a steady approach, Vimeo had the makings for the long play game, it just needed the leader and the scaled team to hit that finish line.

Enter Kerry Trainor.

“I was a fan of Vimeo long before I had the opportunity to join the team, so for me it was that attraction to the product and potential,” noted Trainor of his transition from AOL’s entertainment team to Vimeo. “[Vimeo] was carving out its own space in the video ecosystem, certainly not following anybody else, and I thought [we were] on a very clear and exciting path from a product perspective, certainly in regards to the way [we were] serving creators.”

And at that time, Vimeo’s business model revolved around the power of its toolset, monetizing through PRO packages, but it was the launch of Vimeo On Demand and the subsequent monetization around that product which sprouted a viable business model of the future — direct to fan distribution. And so early TVOD began.

“We really wanted to find a way to build a business around the viewing of content, and not just the creator tools, which is why we launched Vimeo On Demand. We’ve been building out the world’s largest open platform for the distribution of ad-free, paid video experiences.”

And over the last three years, Vimeo has taken the tortoise and the hare approach, steadily locking in foundational deals that would ultimately yield a business model for the future, and which has recently resulted in its first big production — “High Maintenance” — finding a home on HBO.

Though, as Trainor sees it, the internet is simply fitting itself into the retro broadcast and cable business models that have historically worked, both from a consumer consumption perspective and from the business strategy side. To that point, whether the video experience is digital or analog becomes null.

“The first ten years of online video, we assumed there would be one business model, but if we look at the analogs that makes no sense. Film was the first video experience with an a la carte model and we’re seeing that translate to digital now.”

For Trainor, Vimeo fits into the second big phase of the online video business — paid; whereas the first phase was marked by the ad-supported model, which he claims has only recently become “rooted.” As the business evolves, Trainor has felt that the direct pay model would be the future, and would work just as effectively as it did in the early days of cable and broadcast television and film.

“We are in the very first few minutes of the paid side, but with what we’re building at Vimeo, we absolutely think we are looking at the second phase of the business where there will be a very robust paid ecosystem. And we are building that open global operating system for the premium cable experience [online].”

And so, Trainor has rewritten the script for the video platform ecosystem. In his version, he now sees a world where YouTube is the free, ad-supported broadcaster, and Vimeo is no longer the “indie YouTube,” but rather the premium, subscription service much in the way of Showtime and HBO.

“In terms of the different world Vimeo has built for creators and the next phases that we see, [putting] the power in any creator’s hands around the world to charge for their content and build audiences that are paying them to support their work — that’s certainly something I’d like to achieve.”

The dominoes are in place for Vimeo under Trainor’s steady hand, and it’s only a matter of time before the tipping point arrives. At which point, VideoInk will no doubt find itself covering the indie, wannabe, and knock-off Vimeo’s of tomorrow.