Vimeo and the Problem of Content Held Hostage

Vimeo Logo

In January of this year, Channel 5, a Patreon-funded documentary web channel, had all their backer videos suddenly disappear. According to a post they published, this resulted in more than 200 angry messages and the loss of some 500 patrons, including several lifetime patrons.

The reason, according to them, was simple: Vimeo was holding their Patreon catalog hostage.

According to their statement, their videos were removed from Patreon because that had exceeded Vimeo’s “bandwidth limit”. That was in spite of the fact that they paid some $250 per year for a Vimeo Pro subscription. That account allows them some 1 terabyte of storage, something they haven’t even used a quarter of.

However, what was more frustrating for them was Vimeo’s proposed solution. Vimeo requested between $8,000 and $9,000 for a yearly subscription or that the channel reduce their bandwidth usage.

For Channel 5, they were able to move on and secured new video hosting on Patreon’s new video hosting platform, which is in beta and not available to the public yet. However, that required working with Patreon, which previously had used Vimeo as a video hosting partner for their users.

But after Channel 5 vented their frustration, it becomes clear that they were not alone. In an article from The Verge, other Vimeo uploaders, primarily those that used it through Patreon, were facing similar issues. 

One creator, Lois van Baarle, was told that she needed to pay some $3,500 per year if she wanted to remain on Vimeo. However, her videos do not receive a large number of views, with none of her 117 subscriber-only videos receiving more than 815 views.

Similar stories have been told by others who were surprised with demands for hundreds or thousands of dollars or risk losing their Vimeo account. 

Vimeo, for its part, says that they are working to improve their communication with customers. According to their head of communications, Matt Anchin, “We know there is always room to do better, and we are working to enhance our transparency and communication around bandwidth usage, both on and off our platform.”

However, that is extremely cold comfort to the creators, many of whom have used and paid for Vimeo for years, that are facing the difficult choice of paying a much higher subscription fee or leaving the platform altogether.

The scariest part of all, we’ve seen this exact behavior before, and it did not go well in 2017 either. 

We’ve Seen This Before

Photobucket Image

In July 2017, the photo hosting service Photobucket announced a major change to its terms of service. Overnight, the service disabled the embedding of images on free accounts and millions of images on the internet broke, being replaced with a now-infamous warning to update their account.

To make matters worse, those that did want to upgrade their account would have to pay either $39.99 per month or $399 per year, an amount that was far beyond what is typical for an image hosting service.

At the time, the move was likened to the Mafia and received a great deal of mainstream attention, none of it positive. The decision was particularly harmful to forums and communities online, whose members used Photobucket for hosting images in their posts. 

Today, Photobucket offers much more affordable image hosting, starting at around $8 per month for unlimited hosting, but the damage was likely done. Almost no one that needed image hosting was going to trust Photobucket again.

It’s a lesson that Vimeo would do well to learn from.

The Difference in Vimeo

Though the comparison to the Photobucket incident is clear, there are also key differences to consider. First, Vimeo’s moves are, for now, only impacting a small number of creators. According to the company, it’s only impacting around 1% of all users.

On their pricing page, the company outlines the policy accordingly: 

“Generally, we do not limit or impose additional fees for bandwidth consumption on self-serve accounts (i.e. the data used in order to deliver your videos to viewers). However, this policy is subject to fair use: If your aggregate bandwidth usage (across all accounts you control) is higher than 99% of self-serve users on our platform in any calendar month (currently around 2TB per month), we may reach out to discuss a more suitable plan for your needs. Most Vimeo accounts never reach this threshold.”

However, even in this policy, there are no hard limits, and it’s unclear which users will be impacted.

Though it may be “around 2 TB”, there’s no clarity on what the word “around” means in this case. Furthermore, they say that is what it “currently” is and make no guarantees that will be the limit a month or a year from now.

This means that it is entirely possible for a user to operate for an extended period of time without issue and suddenly run afoul of these rules without any significant increase in use. While Vimeo may be correct that 99% of their users don’t hit these caps, it’s a Sword of Damocles hanging over anyone who uses their service.

These recent issues come as Vimeo announced in a letter to shareholders that it is pivoting from being a “viewing destination” to being a “technology platform” that serves as a “B2B solution, not the indie version of YouTube.”

But where that leaves the current users who picked Vimeo as a YouTube alternative is less clear. The only thing that is certain is that, while it may not be quite the system shock Photobucket was five years ago, Vimeo users have a slew of new things to worry about. 

Bottom Line

It would be easy to say that this is the danger of hosting your content in someone else’s cloud. However, that advice really isn’t the case. Those impacted were already paying customers, often paying far higher amounts than they would if they had used a competitor.

Instead, this story serves as a strong reminder that no place on the internet is safe from change, even places you pay hundreds of dollars per year for. If you want to have a long-lasting presence online, you need to always have contingency plans to move to a different service or platform.

It’s impossible to know when a service you rely on may be bought or sold, change business strategies, or simply close up shop. Ultimately, you need to be in control of your content and able to pivot quickly.

Also, it’s important to avoid hosting with companies where the rules are ambiguous. It’s important to have clear boundaries on what is and is not allowed and what requires additional fees. 

Though Vimeo may be right that these policies only affect a very small percentage of users, they create uncertainty for 100% of them. With the headlines over the past few weeks, certainty is what they need most of all. 

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