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Vimeo is telling creators to suddenly pay thousands of dollars — or leave the platform

Popular Patreon creators are being hit with unexpected Vimeo price hikes as Vimeo shifts corporate strategy

Illustration by Kristen Radtke / The Verge

Lois van Baarle, a digital artist based in the Netherlands, joined Vimeo 13 years ago as a student studying animation, back when it was still an indie creator platform. When van Baarle started making subscriber-only Patreon content in 2020, Vimeo seemed like the best option for hosting her videos — Patreon itself didn’t offer video hosting, and YouTube didn’t have the same features to protect her work, like controlling where her videos could be embedded.

“I was already paying $200 a year, which I think is pretty expensive,” van Baarle says. “But I thought, well, it’s a quality platform.” She’s uploaded 117 subscriber-only videos so far, and each one only gets around 150 views on average, van Baarle says. Her most viewed video has around 815 views.

So the notice Vimeo sent van Baarle on March 11th shocked her. Her bandwidth usage was within the top 1 percent of Vimeo users, the company said, and if she wanted to keep hosting her content on the site, she’d need to upgrade to a custom plan. Her quoted price: $3,500 a year. She was given a week to upgrade her content, decrease her bandwidth usage, or leave Vimeo.

“I’ve never had it where a platform reached out to me and was like, ‘Pay up, or get off our platform,’ basically,” she says.

Van Baarle is far from alone in her experience. Several Patreon creators have received the same message from Vimeo in recent months, causing a tailspin of confusion and panic over potentially losing their video work. The ultimatums to indie video creators come as Vimeo is shifting focus toward large corporate clients — leaving longtime Vimeo users to scramble for an alternative.

Channel 5, a popular account doing man-on-the-street-style interviews, received a similar message in January. In a post on Patreon titled, “Vimeo is holding our Patreon catalogue hostage (an explanation),” Channel 5 creators say that upon returning from a trip they saw that their videos had disappeared from the Patreon feed, resulting in hundreds of angry messages and the loss of “500+” subscribers.

Screenshots posted by Channel 5 show their price for a new custom plan starting at $7,000 a year, and that an upgrade or migration off of Vimeo was required.

Vimeo bandwidth usage is calculated using factors like video plays, resolution, loading the player and thumbnail image, downloading, and livestreaming, according to the company’s website. Overage charges aren’t imposed unless an account reaches “unusually high levels,” or is in the 99 percentile of users. Vimeo places that threshold at around 2 to 3 TB per month. In communication with affected creators, Vimeo isn’t shy about its policy to charge top creators more.

“On some high consumption accounts (including your account), Vimeo has been losing money supporting its usage,” read email notices from company representatives. “This has become problematic for our leadership team and they made the decision to implement a fair use policy in which we reserve the right to charge the top 1% of bandwidth-consuming accounts based on the amount of bandwidth they are utilizing.”

In a statement to The Verge, Vimeo’s head of communications Matt Anchin says that when a user reaches the threshold, the company works with creators to accommodate their higher bandwidth needs.

“Our goal will always be to provide the best video solution possible and work with our users so they can continue to reach their audiences in high quality,” Anchin says. The company noted that over 70 percent of users flagged for excessive bandwidth choose to either upgrade to a custom plan or lower their bandwidth usage.

Over the past four to five years, Vimeo has made a hard pivot away from being the YouTube alternative that van Baarle and other video creators originally signed up for. Vimeo CEO Anjali Sud has talked at length about this strategy shift, telling The Verge last year that the goal is to be a software company for businesses of “all sizes.” But in Vimeo’s 2021 Q4 earnings report, the focus is on the corporate clients, with Sud highlighting that some of the largest companies in the world are buying Vimeo’s products.

In a letter to shareholders in February, Sud spells the shift out in black and white: “Today we are a technology platform, not a viewing destination. We are a B2B solution, not the indie version of YouTube.”

The change in strategy has hit Patreon users particularly hard: Patreon has encouraged the use of Vimeo as a hosting platform, with Vimeo even offering a small discount for Patreon creators. Patreon also has a Vimeo integration that allows creators to upload gated content directly. In Channel 5’s case, the creators wrote that they didn’t realize when they uploaded videos to Patreon, the content was actually being hosted on Vimeo. But van Baarle knew she was using Vimeo — a business decision she’s made for over a decade.

“Vimeo has become extremely irrelevant over time, and has no cultural impact on the level of YouTube. But I still chose Vimeo,” van Baarle says. “And what do I get in return?”

Sunny Singh, a Patreon creator making live concert videos, has uploaded more than 4,000 videos to Vimeo since 2008 and was already paying about $900 a year for the service. Late last year, a notice began appearing when he logged into his Vimeo account, warning him that his bandwidth usage was getting high and that he may hear from the company about a custom plan.

On January 11th, Vimeo emailed Singh to alert him that as part of the top 1 percent of users, he too would need to upgrade his account or decrease his usage within nine days, or risk an “interruption” of service. Based on Vimeo’s projections, Singh’s custom plan would amount to $3,000 a year. But the top 1 percent designation puzzled Singh — his Vimeo uploads only get around 700 views on average; most of his viewers are on YouTube, where the same content is uploaded.

Singh, who has a background in data science, requested his data from Vimeo and ran his own analysis to understand how his projected bandwidth consumption was calculated. His analysis suggested that Vimeo’s projection was higher than it should be, and he used his numbers to negotiate his rate down from $3,000 to $2,500. Singh had no choice but to pay the new fee: he had custom-coded his content distribution system years ago around Vimeo’s API, which relies on videos going up there first — migrating off of the platform would require him to redevelop the backend.

“I paid for this year, but I don’t intend on paying again next year,” he says.

Vimeo says it offers users ways to track their bandwidth usage, and that the company has been in touch with Patreon throughout the partnership.

“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,” Anchin says.

Some creators have jumped ship from Vimeo in the face of increasing hosting fees. Van Baarle says she plans to manually re-upload her video content to YouTube, where she can host it for free instead of paying for a custom plan on Vimeo. Channel 5 eventually was able to recover their content with Patreon’s help, according to a brief update in early February. With no paid upgrade, their Vimeo account was “wiped from the face of the earth,” they say in the post. The next Channel 5 video would instead be hosted on Patreon directly — the service has started developing its own video platform, though for now it’s only available to select users.

“Patreon is focused on meeting the ever-evolving needs of creators and patrons, and we’ve heard first-hand from both that relying on third-party video tools causes issues with upload limits or content leaks,” Ellen Satterwhite, interim head of communications for Patreon, says in an email. Satterwhite says that a native video tool is in beta testing with a select group of creators, and that the company hopes to roll it out to all users by the end of this year. The company declined to comment on whether it would continue to recommend Vimeo as a hosting platform.

Singh says Patreon has a responsibility to notify creators that their content could be at risk if they’re hit with a Vimeo notice of excessive bandwidth usage. And he worries that even new Patreon creators who gain traction quickly could leap into Vimeo’s top user base and get the same email he and others did, with few options.

“I don’t think that [Patreon is] being respectful of the risk that they’re putting creators in by not disclosing that this is a thing that’s happening,” Singh says.

Update March 15th, 1:01 PM ET: Updated to include comments from Vimeo.