Above: Pixar production Borrowed Time, as featured on Vimeo.
Orla Keaveney analyses the burgeoning DIY film scene and its two largest platforms with due skepticism.
FOLLOWING the unexpectedly profitable careers of vloggers like Zoella and PewDiePie, YouTube has become an increasingly respected alternative to traditional media like TV and radio. Our generation is moving away from the world of 30-minute timeslots and ad breaks towards the democracy of the internet, where anyone can create content without the approval of network execs or corporate sponsors.
But with over 300 hours of video uploaded to YouTube every minute, constantly adding to the 81 million videos already on the site, it’s literally impossible for any one person to sift through all this footage and glean the best bits. And the runaway success of YouTube’s stars has inspired thousands of wannabe celebrities to clog the site with grainy footage and clickbait titles. It seems that the freedom of online video comes at the price of traditional production values, and finding worthwhile content is more of a gamble than ever.
“The difference between YouTube and Vimeo… there’s a certain air of arrogance and snobbery about the latter which can alienate the casual viewer.”
That’s where Vimeo comes in. The video-sharing platform may at first seem like a blatant rip-off, the Bing to YouTube’s Google – even though Vimeo was actually founded in 2004, three months before its better-known competitor. Where the two sites differ is in their selectivity: while uploading to YouTube is as easy as creating a free account, Vimeo caps creators’ uploads unless they “go pro” by paying a monthly subscription. It might not be very democratic, but it does filter out the hours of webcam rants that plague YouTube. Plus, it means the creators cover the running costs rather than the viewers, sparing us from watching ads before every video.
Vimeo has been used for “professional” productions: for instance, a group of Pixar animators used the site to showcase Borrowed Time, a pet project that aimed to show that CGI can tell emotionally-moving stories for adults as well as children.
Vimeo also hosts many of the Academy Award nominees in the short film categories, including this year’s winners, Piper (Animation) and Sing (Live Action). But Vimeo is mostly populated by indie filmmakers, delving into a range of genres from documentaries to drama to experimental work. What unites these creators – and distinguishes them from their YouTube counterparts – is that they see their work as art rather than simply entertainment.
The difference between YouTube and Vimeo could be likened to that between Facebook photo albums and a gallery’s photography exhibition. One format isn’t necessarily better than the other; though there’s a certain air of arrogance and snobbery about the latter, which can alienate the casual viewer. Enjoying the more “high-brow” stuff doesn’t make you any better than those who prefer a little less pretention, though both sides would agree that carefully-curated art tends to have a deeper, less superficial impact.
“Vimeo’s main distinction from YouTube may be its disregard for populism, but leaving this arrogance unchallenged will cost the site its chance to appeal to a wider audience.”
Another difference is that YouTube recommends videos based on what’s popular for people in your demographic, whereas Vimeo categorises its content under headings like “Watch Human-Curated Staff Picks” and “The Freshest in Animation”. While the measure of a YouTube video’s success is its number of views, Vimeo’s content instead displays its awards from high-brow film festivals like badges of honour, each framed in gold laurels.
Throughout the site, Vimeo emphasises quality over quantity, and its definition of “quality” is set by critics, not the general public. Not surprisingly, Vimeo is nowhere near overtaking YouTube in terms of popularity – its recent milestone of 100 million viewers is a tenth of YouTube’s monthly average.
Where Vimeo could appeal to YouTube’s fan-base is in its emphasis on high production standards. Bridging the gap between the accessibility of the internet, and the crisp cinematography of traditional media, Vimeo’s content could be the platform for a new breed of entertainment.
Netflix Originals have proven the potential of the internet to produce affecting series and films, on par with broadcast media; however, Netflix hasn’t deviated much from the familiar format of its predecessors. Most episodes in a series are of a consistent length around the 30- or 60-minute mark, and continue conventions like title sequences and end credits.
Vimeo has even greater potential to push the limits of the internet as a medium, because the existing content is already experimental, whereas Netflix has built its fan-base by relying primarily on shows that originally aired on TV. What Vimeo needs is a high-profile success story, a short film or series praised by both critics and the public, that will reshape people’s perception of it (like House of Cards did for Netflix’s homegrown productions). But the site doesn’t appear to be making any moves towards this sort of breakthrough.
Currently, Vimeo’s content creators are preoccupied with earning the approval of Sundance, Cannes and other film festivals that make waves within the film circles, but have a negligible impact on the general public. Vimeo’s main distinction from YouTube may be its disregard for populism, but leaving this arrogance unchallenged will cost the site its chance to appeal to a wider audience.
Vimeo doesn’t need to become a clone of YouTube, but by refusing to adopt some of its competitor’s more successful traits, its creators are wasting their potential to lead changes in future media.