Is Vimeo on Demand a PRO in Online Distribution? Or is it a CON for Filmmakers?

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There has been a lot of talk over the new Vimeo on Demand, which allows filmmakers to self-distribute their films with a 90/10 revenue share. Yes, 90% of the sales (after transaction fees) end up in the filmmaker's pocket. Pretty good deal, right? Almost every news source wrote about this last week when Vimeo announced their new VOD feature at SXSW on Wednesday. The information in all the articles was the same, and it was rather limited. What they highlighted was the 90/10 revenue split, how Vimeo was creator-friendly, and how the service was only available to those with PRO accounts. All the attention and press made it look like Vimeo on Demand was making its mark on the world of online film distribution.

All is intriguing and dandy except perhaps that last detail: The service is only available to those with PRO accounts. Well, this aspect of the new feature got some backlash from Vimeo users, calling it "commercial" and an "unclear promise of actually helping filmmakers find their audience." One filmmaker talked about how users need to pay $200 up front and how difficult this is for small producers. A Vimeo PRO account costs $199.

It's true that Vimeo never had and still doesn't have any advertising on its platform. Though it's undeniable that part of its income revenue is coming from its own users/filmmakers who pay $199 a year. Considering that almost all professional filmmakers have a Vimeo PRO account, that's a substantial total sum right there. I don't think it would be false to say that Vimeo is dependent on its filmmakers to survive. So, instead of looking at this new service as a "favor" or a "selfless innovation," I see it more like Vimeo finally giving its filmmakers something in return.

There are of course some issues. Let's create a hypothetical scenario here: I am a filmmaker with a Vimeo PRO account, and I paid $199 up front. So that money is gone. I created a Vimeo on Demand page for one of my movies and am selling it for $5 a copy. To make up the $199 I spent to get the PRO account, I need to sell roughly 40 downloads. AND THEN, if I want to make profit, I need to sell more.

Now, I'm a huge believer in buying movies. I still buy the DVDs of my favorite classics, and I don't hesitate to spend my money on something meaningful that I'll get to keep forever. However, paying for a short film that I haven't heard much about when I know that I might potentially watch it for free on a different platform will be in the back of my head when I'm purchasing that film. Paying for downloads is still a grey/iffy area, and unless you really like a certain movie and want to keep it forever or you want to specifically support that filmmaker, you just don't pay for it.

A filmmaker featured on Film Annex's homepage makes (on average) between $1000 and $2000 a month via advertising revenues. Let's say $1500 for this argument's sake. On Vimeo on Demand, to make that amount per month with the movie you posted, you need to sell 300 downloads/copies. That's a very high number if you're not an indie filmmaker star or an expert in marketing films. I think the numbers speak for themselves.

I think this is a good experiment for all filmmakers to try out and see the results of their sales versus the revenue they generate on Film Annex's film distribution platform. Internet lets you try everything at the same time! You might say, well what if I'm not featured on the homepage? Let me tell you that if you're a filmmaker with great films, you will get your chance. Plus, with good social media presence and promotional skills, you will be sure to generate some revenue on your channel, and you won't have to pay any fee up front.

-- Eren

Illustration: "Troubled filmmaker" by Eren Gulfidan

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