Can Barry Diller's Vimeo Take on YouTube and Netflix With New Subscription Model?

Courtesy of Vimeo; Craig Blankenhorn/HBO
'Darby Forever' (left) and 'High Maintenance'

Size matters at IAC as its video platform eyes subscriptions amid executive turnover and analyst queries: "How do you convince somebody to give you another $3?"

During a visit to Los Angeles in early June, Barry Diller addressed UTA agents and talked up the future of his streaming platform Vimeo. Just a few days later, on June 7, Vimeo CEO Kerry Trainor stepped down after four years building the service.

Trainor's Vimeo exit, which comes amid general executive turnover at Diller's IAC, opens the door to bring fresh blood into a business built mostly to serve filmmakers that now wants to lean toward a consumer subscription service. It's a moment of inflection for 12-year-old Vimeo, considered the No. 2 user-driven streaming service behind YouTube, that observers say is indicative of a larger question about how to compete in the age of Netflix. "IAC is looking at, ultimately, what's the bigger opportunity," says Oppenheimer internet analyst Jason Helfstein.

For his part, Trainor, who will stay on as an adviser, calls Vimeo's consumer effort "an incredible evolution for the company," adding that "it felt like it was the right time to step back and pass the reins on to the senior team."

IAC is chasing a piece of the $120 billion paid content market to go along with its ownership of dating sites like Match.com and Tinder. And there have been big changes across its video division: CollegeHumor co-founder Ricky Van Veen revealed June 8 that he will jump to Facebook to oversee creative strategy for its fast-growing video business. And earlier this year, Ben Silverman, chairman of IAC-backed production company Electus, made his departure official as Chris Grant took over.

Amid the turnover, IAC tapped former NBC exec Garth Ancier to consult on strategy for its media businesses. But execs insist they're committed to investing: "We have tremendous ambition for our video segment and no plans to sell anything," says CEO Joey Levin, who will serve as interim chief at Vimeo. Levin has been vocal about the opportunity he sees in Vimeo, even after conceding in a May 4 shareholder letter that IAC's video business hasn't grown enough "to match the opportunity."

Vimeo's user base has expanded by 300 percent since 2012, but its 280 million monthly users are a fraction of YouTube's 1 billion. And as Vimeo begins to explore a paid video offering, it has a way to go to build its 710,000 industry pro subscribers to anywhere near Netflix's 47 million U.S. members.

Vimeo won't compete in what Levin calls the "multibillion-dollar war on content" dominated by the likes of Netflix, Hulu and Amazon. Instead, he hopes to appeal to niche audiences.

Changing course won't be easy, notes Helfstein: "How do you convince somebody to give you another $3 to subscribe to Vimeo?"

This story first appeared in a special Emmy issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

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