Session Description: Vimeo CEO Anjali Sud is leading her company’s move to invest in content creators and the tech tools that support them.
The transcript is below, while the PDF version can be found here.
Creators First: The Future of Media
(Transcription by RA Fisher Ink)
Sud: Thank you, everyone.
Costa: All right. We’ll see if we can hit our marks as well as we did on that last one. So Vimeo operates in the online video space. Super competitive and you have some really dangerous competitors out there. Netflix is spending $8 billion a year on original content; YouTube users are uploading 300 hours of video every minute, and you’ve got an online video company that’s trying to do things a little bit differently. Can you talk a little bit about your strategy?
Sud: Sure. So Vimeo’s strategy is to look where the Netflixes and the YouTubes of the world aren’t looking, and we think about it in a couple of ways. One, you’re right. There’s billions of dollars being invested in original content, not just from Netflix, but from many other platforms. Ultimately, that’s a good thing for video creators. It means that creators will have more funding and they’ll have more of the need to create high quality stories, and to do it at scale, and to do it quickly.
And what we see in the market is that there’s really no platform that’s focused on the creator experience and how to give them really, truly innovative tools and technology to be able to create. YouTube, I think, has, historically, been an option. But the reality, and there’s a lot of conversation I heard today about this, the reality is that YouTube, Facebook, they’re ad-supported platforms. They’re effectively focused—they’re media companies. They’re focused on distribution. And that means that they have to make choices that keep content on their platform. And they’re increasingly becoming more like walled gardens in an effort to do that.
And so if you think about it, as a creator, the question we used to get all the time is, “Oh, should I put my content on Vimeo or YouTube?” And that idea that creator has to choose just doesn’t work in the way we all consume videos today. So we see an opportunity for Vimeo to really be that agnostic hub where we’re going to provide the tools—and we’ve started to invest in this recently—that helps creators, at the click of a button, natively distribute their videos on Facebook, on YouTube, on Twitter, on their websites, create their own apps, go direct to their consumers. And there’s a huge need for that because the reality is we’re not an ad-based business. We can afford to make those decisions and there’s no one else really out there that’s really being creator first.
Costa: Yes, there’s the seriousness to a Vimeo link. When you get a Vimeo share, you know that you expect higher quality, you know you’re not going to get an ad in front of it. But there’s also a community of Vimeo users that had pre-dated your time at the company, but it seems like you’re trying to maintain. What are you doing to increase that sense of community among users?
Sud: There’s two trends, I think, that are happening that we see on the Vimeo platform. One is, the definition of a creator is changing and there are more diverse types of creators than there were before. It used to be, you had to be a film maker. The reality is now, many more people can be filmmakers. Technology has lowered the barriers for quality storytelling and you no longer need to have gone to film school and invested a lot of money in the highest-end equipment to tell good stories.
The other thing we’re see is small businesses, startups, nonprofits, schools using video for everything from education to fund raising. Large companies using video for training and support. And so the definition of a creator on our platform—and this has just happened organically over the years—is changing rapidly. So that means that when we think about community, it’s not just about the filmmakers, who we love and will always support, but we have to provide a community that supports all of these different types of users.
Some of the ways we’re doing that. One is, we focus a lot on inspiration. We have a team, an in-house team of curators, so we don’t just rely on algorithms. We actually have humans watching the content on Vimeo every day and trying to bubble up the stories that might not appear in an algorithm. The types of content or technologies being used to further storytelling that you just wouldn’t see every day. And it’s amazing how, by bubbling up that content, not only do we give those creators an opportunity to launch their own careers, but we also just inspire more people to try different things. So that’s a big one.
Education is another big piece. We have a video school. We do a lot of meetups. We’re constantly out in the community trying to share and connect the learning from various creators, case studies, other white papers, ways to show people how others can succeed.
And then the last piece I think is innovation. The product has to do the work of connecting the community, whether it’s building tools that help teams that are working on a video project work more closely together. We have a creator labs team, an R&D team, that thinks about the newest forms of storytelling. VR, AI, new ways that we can co-create with—these were experimenters on the platform.
So those are all ways that we’re investing in the community. I think it’s really important. It’s a major differentiator. The thing we hear most from creators of all kinds is they want more support and they want a community that doesn’t feel like they’re going to get trolled or they’re going to get judged. A safe place where they can put their work out there and become better.
Costa: And control it once they’ve put it out there.
Sud: Yes, and have total control. I think the privacy piece and the ability to brand your video and have it be truly just yours, is really important.
Costa: One of the other spaces where you’ve got a big initiative is live streaming. Live streaming was super, super popular about a year and a half ago and there was a lot of money being pushed into it. It’s cooled off a little bit now as people have a more realistic view of what live streaming is for. This event, obviously being live streamed.
Sud: With Vimeo technology.
Costa: With Vimeo’s technology. Probably not a coincidence. But talk to me a little bit about how you see the potential in live streaming as it is today.
Sud: Yes. So it’s interesting, I don’t see live video as cooling down. I do think that there was a time when everyone was, “Oh, cool, live video is buzzy so let’s just do everything that was on-demand, let’s just make that live.” And that strategy does not work. Live video serves a very specific purpose. It brings, particularly for real-time events, it brings more access to an audience and that can be extremely powerful. But you can’t just take any piece of content and suddenly make it live and think that that will work.
But, what we see is, actually, nothing but momentum on live. Actually, livestreaming was the number one feature request from the Vimeo creator community last year. So because of that, we launched our own live video support and actually acquired a company based in Brooklyn, called Livestream, to support it.
But also I think there’s been—Facebook recently, a couple of months ago when they updated their algorithm, I think Mark Zuckerberg shared that they were emphasizing engagement and that live video was getting six times more interactions than static video on Facebook. And even just, I think, today I saw an article. Facebook just also shared that the number of live streams from verified pages has gone up about one and a half times in the last year.
So I think live will continue to be very valuable. The use case we see it in is really professional events. So it’s everything from streaming your live sporting event, churches streaming their sermons on Sundays, companies like Techonomy who are using events to reach a broader audience. Those are the use cases that we’re seeing a lot of natural growth in and where we’re focused. So I’m bullish on live.
Costa: And the sports angle, that’s always been the holy grail of live video, is when can we get sports. When will sports go fully digital and be fully live? How long do we have to wait for that?
Sud: I think it’s happening as we speak. And it depends on whether you’re talking about professional sports or you’re talking about high school sports. But one of the things we’re very interested in, we always talk about how can technology lower barriers. But for example, one of the things that we recently—and this company we acquired—invested in is a camera called a Mevo. It’s a live event camera. It’s the size of—it’s this big, so it’s basically a TV studio in your pocket, less than the cost of an iPhone. And it literally gives you the ability to—you’re at your kid’s soccer game—the ability to livestream, real-time editing, AI-based editing, high professional quality.
So I think that these tools exist that are going to make it much, much easier to really put the power of a TV studio in each individual person’s hand. It’s just that there’s a lack of awareness that those things exist and hopefully companies like Vimeo will do a good job of increasing awareness and making it more accessible. So I think the next time we talk, Dan, you will have a different—
Costa: I think you’re right. I think actually that’s the right approach. That the NFL and Major League Baseball, they’re going to handle their livestreams just fine. But think about all the parents out there that just want to see their game. They want to share that game with relatives all over the country and that technology exists. You’re building it there.
Sud: It exists and there’s no reason that same quality or level of capability shouldn’t be accessible to people.
Costa: So you are the youngest CEO in the IAC portfolio, as I’m sure everybody keeps telling you.
Sud: I’m reminded of that often.
Costa: It’s a good thing. What advice do you have for aspiring businesspeople, technologists, and especially women who are coming up in industry today? What tips can you give them?
Sud: So from my own experience, I would say, create your own opportunities. Don’t wait for opportunities to be handed to you. I joined Vimeo four years ago to run marketing. I think if I had stayed in my lane, I would not be in the position I’m in today, and I did things that were outside of my own purview. I developed a perspective on the ability and opportunity for us to focus on creators and just started doing it and slowly over time embedded myself into what was happening at the company enough that it made sense for me to take on more.
But I think, whether for women, for young people, for anyone who’s really ambitious, thinking of it as create those opportunities yourself can be really valuable. I also always say look where others aren’t looking. There were many times in my career I’ve taken roles that maybe didn’t seem like the sexiest project at the team or the company, but the benefit of taking those on was that I sometimes got more responsibility than, frankly, I had experience for. But because they weren’t the sexiest, most important projects, I could take them on and then I could prove myself. So I say look where others aren’t looking.
And then I think the other advice I would give a lot of people is it’s okay to be impatient. I’ve been accused of being impatient many times in my career and I think if that impatience stems from a desire to solve problems that matter, make a difference, deliver good results, you shouldn’t shy away from it and you don’t have to follow traditional paths. I think that’s happening more and more when you look at companies, partly because of the—we have a new generation of people who are coming up through the workforce who have a different perspective on why they work and what they want in a fulfilling career. So I think being impatient and navigating in a different way than has been done in the past is only going to continue.
Costa: Impatience is an interesting word too, because I think that many people would say aggression is good. Men get rewarded for being aggressive all the time. But a lot of times, when women have the same approach, different language is employed to describe what would be exactly the same behavior.
Sud: Yes, absolutely. I’m sure there are many, many women in the room who can nod and empathize with that. But yes, and I do think the more we can own that impatience or ambition, the better. And hopefully, there will be many more paths and stories like mine. I feel very fortunate.
Costa: So also I want to keep hammering home this ‘New York is the best technology city in the world’ thing.
You’re based in New York City. What is it about the city that inspires you and pushes you forward?
Sud: I grew up, I come from Pointe, Michigan. And I was raised with this idea that business can have a really positive impact on your community. As one of the reasons I loved Vimeo is because Vimeo is investing in ways to support the creator community. And what I think is really exciting, though it’s happening in New York today, and even the agenda of this conference and the topics and the speakers really reflect it, is we are being a lot more proactive about acknowledging the influence, and in some cases, the responsibility, that business has to impact our community. Whether it is through diversity and inclusion, social and equality, sustainability. Those topics, the fact that they’re taking up so much of our mindshare as businesses, I don’t think it was like that a couple of years ago, and that’s really exciting.
For us, one of the things we’ve been really excited about is, Vimeo has a very strong position on net neutrality, as do many other businesses in our space, and it’s been really exciting to see companies take a more active and activist role in trying to influence what’s happening at our government. And what’s been very cool is to see other New York companies, you know, Foursquare, Etsy, Mozilla, a ton of other companies come together and try and effect change together as a business community. So that’s the stuff that I get really excited about.
Costa: So there’s a protest coming up in just a couple of days.
Sud: There is, yes. We will be participating. I think my PR person said I’m not allowed to talk about it too much. There’s going to be some announcements. Vimeo’s stance is obviously pretty clear on this and we’ve been very active. We’ve activated our own user base repeatedly. We’ve actually filed lawsuits in Washington, and we will continue to take a strong stance here. But we’re not alone, and I think that’s the part that’s really exciting, is that we’re just seeing a clear trend of more and more players in the tech and business world, in New York in particular, using their voice in a way that is much more proactive than in the past.
Costa: Three, two, one.
Sud: Nailed it.
Costa: Pretty impressive.
Sud: Thank you.