Diller’s Vimeo, Once Left for Dead, Enters Crowded TV Fray

  • Video-sharing site opening checkbook to create new shows
  • Vimeo to spend ‘real money’ on shows for first time: IAC CEO

Barry Diller

Photographer: Scott Eells/Bloomberg

When Barry Diller’s IAC/InterActiveCorp bought comedy website CollegeHumor in 2006, the deal included an asset the billionaire had little use for at the time: Vimeo.

The video-sharing site, which predates YouTube, is now the fulcrum of Diller’s plan to join the crowded online-TV market. Vimeo will soon introduce an on-demand video service akin to Netfix and Hulu, and is lining up TV shows and staff it hopes will convince people to cough up a monthly fee for yet another TV subscription.

“We’re going to spend real money on programming for the first time ever, and put real marketing money behind it,’’ IAC Chief Executive Officer Joey Levin said in an interview at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

Levin, a former investment banker, has been flying to Los Angeles to meet with executives, production companies and record labels. Vimeo, which has been known primarily as a site offering tools to filmmakers, will commission more original series like “High Maintenance,’’ the popular web series about a weed delivery man that Time Warner Inc.’s HBO later picked up. Vimeo will also acquire and license shows that have already aired elsewhere.

Vimeo may not spend as much to nab content and talent as Netflix, Amazon or Hulu, but its shows also won’t be confused with the user-generated content seen on YouTube or Snapchat.

The company is after edgy, risky and provocative programming. That could include documentaries, action sports, comedy or drama -- but not traditional romantic comedies or superhero fare. Levin declined to provide Vimeo’s expected budget.

“Our content will be the kind that gets your heart rate going,’’ he said. The shows should elicit some physiological response: a squirm or a laugh. “We’ll look at what our audience watches, and organize that data to help us program.’’

Levin took over Vimeo last year after the departure of Kerry Trainor, who helped expand the site’s main moneymaker: charging filmmakers and companies to use its video-sharing, marketing and analytics tools. While that may be a solid business, it’s still small. IAC’s entire video division, which also includes production company Electus, accounted for $60 million in sales in the most recent quarter.

TV Revolution

Levin and Diller think Vimeo could be bigger, and even more valuable. The company is sitting on assets -- 741,000 active filmmakers, 20 million people watching videos every month and 100 million videos -- that it could use to grab a piece of the the changing TV business.

The IAC executives believe TV is in the early stages of a revolution. And as the traditional cable bundle frays and viewers move online, they want to position Vimeo to reap some of the rewards. Such a shift in thinking isn’t new for IAC: the company acquired and then spun off the websites Expedia, Lending Tree and Match because it believed the business of travel booking, finance and dating would migrate online. They were right.

But IAC faces much more intense competition. Alphabet Inc.’s YouTube is the most popular video site in the world, while Netflix, Amazon and Hulu rule the paid market, having amassed millions of subscribers. There’s also an ever-growing crop of new online options for the TV watcher: AT&T Inc.’s DirecTV Now, Dish Network Corp.’s Sling TV, Time Warner’s HBO Now and Verizon’s go90, to name a few.

Vimeo’s advantage, Levin said, is that millions of people already have a positive association with the site, and thousands of filmmakers already use it as well.

“That Vimeo creator base has been and will be an enormous asset for us in terms of the creation of content,’’ Levin said. “Everyone else is already shopping at Vimeo to find the next talent. We ought to be doing it ourselves and doing it better.’’

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