As of September 2012, 9 of the top 10 most viewed YouTube videos are music videos. The one exception to this is the YouTube classic “Charlie bit my finger-again!” with over 478 million views. Vimeo’s most viewed videos, on the other hand, range from time-lapse landscape studies to beautiful video art installations. When it comes to the most prominent video-sharing sites on the Internet, it’s impossible not to compare the two in terms of viewership, innovation and content.
Vimeo and YouTube have always varied widely when it comes to viewers and the type of creators to which the sites split revenue. I’ve heard YouTube’s style described as “safe” on more than a few occasions while Vimeo is seen as edgier or more artistically progressive.
As YouTube shapes itself to become a media giant, it’s become clear that aspiring filmmakers and artists may have a tough choice when it comes to picking where to host their content.
YouTube’s success in viewership can certainly be credited to the level of content hosted at the site, but as platinum Nickelback records demonstrate — successful entertainment doesn’t necessarily mean good entertainment. From its inception, YouTube has never been known as a place for innovative artistic filmmaking. The multi-billion dollar site was built on the backs of lip-syncing tweens mounting webcams to monitors. Skits and comedy videos only added to YouTube’s aversion towards art house content, as humor vloggers would soon turn into the first digital video superstars forever defining people, and not content, as the lifeblood of YouTube.
With those parameters set, the opportunities for serious filmmakers to find success on YouTube became all but nonexistent. And this is not to mention that Sony’s music video website VEVO quickly transformed YouTube into Generation Y’s MTV.
While YouTube was busy evolving digital entertainment, Vimeo was quietly building an audience of documentarians and filmmakers. Even Vimeo’s most popular music videos belong to indie artists who — unless you’re scouring music blogs constantly — you probably haven’t heard of.
With the success of Vimeo’s art-driven community, there is a price that must be paid, or in this case, not paid. The audience that Vimeo has appealed to is a niche one. Although Vimeo’s community may flourish artistically, it cannot have the same level of commercial success as YouTube. Google knows marketing and strategy better than anyone in the world, which shows in YouTube’s staggering success. That strategy, however, has not seemed to include the type of indie-scored videos found on Vimeo. In addition to a lack of financial draw, this also means that your average Vimeo contributor will never see the same amount of global success as a YouTube creator regardless of how innovative their content is.
For filmmakers looking to launch a digital career, this is how things stand. If you can find your audience on YouTube, that audience has a chance to be massive, which will obviously put some money in your pocket. However, with billions of minutes of YouTube video being uploaded daily, your content will have less of a chance of being noticed. On top of that, if you are looking to create artistic film, YouTube’s current track record shows that the artist’s artist is undervalued.
Signing your work away to Vimeo’s creativity-fueled yet smaller landscape will mean more opportunities to be recognized as an artist. But, in true artist fashion, your work will be revered, and you’ll probably stay broke.
At the end of the day it comes down to this: Are you willing to sign up for a site that may not appreciate your artistry for a shot at making money? Or would you rather have your work praised by artists while you spend your nights dumpster-diving?
Money versus esteem, credibility versus being able to afford your bills, I guess it always comes back to this, doesn’t it?