Image: Evgeny Glazunov/Shutterstock

Vidme Is the Latest Challenger to YouTube's Dominance

Roisin Kiberd

Roisin Kiberd

YouTube's crackdown on controversial videos has some video makers hoping for a strong competitor to catch on.

Image: Evgeny Glazunov/Shutterstock

How many times has YouTube gone through an apocalypse and lived to see another day? How many times have we seen the rise of a "YouTube killer," a site which will host videos and build a community, and somehow succeed in every area the Google-owned leader has failed?

The list includes sites successful in their own right (DailyMotion, Veoh, Twitch and Microsoft's Beam, now known as Mixer), others ticking along in relative obscurity (Videojug, Flickr Video) and others still which have long since disappeared from the web (Vube, Yfrog, Blip, Stickam and DivX Stage 6).

Now the stage is set for another contender: this time it's Vidme that's attempting to seize the throne.

In its Twitter bio Vidme lists its mission, "to build the world's most creator-friendly video community", a dig at YouTube's troubled relationship with its stars. Last year's "#YouTubeisoverparty", also known as the "Adpocalypse", saw significant numbers of its best-known content creators have videos demonetised and even removed, with strikes placed on accounts for offences as minor as talking about another channel, and even a beauty tutorial which features acne in the thumbnail's "before" picture being demonetised. There was also the introduction of the YouTube Heroes program, which encouraged users to report inappropriate content in return for gamification-style perks, the chance to test new features, and direct contact with YouTube reps. The site's bid to moderate itself also happened to be a troll's dream–widely scorned, it fuelled panic and migration from the site.

Much of the praise for Vidme frames it as an "Imgur for video" and a "free speech-friendly" video network." Perks include easy, fast uploading (Vidme requires no user registration to post), the option to filter comments, a built-in functionality to tip and subscribe to content creators, and a more responsive customer service team which Vidme vows to staff with humans rather than auto-replies, a frequent complaint among YouTubers.

The site was founded in 2014 by Warren Shaeffer and Alex Benzer, one of several startups created by Bit Kitchen, a Los Angeles-based video product lab. Previously functioning under the name "Viddme" as early as 2010, there's also–confusingly–evidence of a site called Vidme appearing as early as 2009 with the tagline "Live Life, Share Private". It's unclear if the 2009 site was owned by the current Vidme when they were using the different spelling, or whether they were an entirely different operation whose name was acquired later by the company known Viddme.

Back in 2010, Vidme was billed as a site "for the videos you don't want everyone to see," with the ability to post clips with an expiration date, revoke access and lock videos so that a limited number of viewers could access them. However, many of the traits Vidme currently retains were visible: uploading was simple and quick, and monetization relied on small amounts paid on a per-video basis, not as tips but by the person posting (you were given fifty "credits" on sign-up, and after using these would need to pay per upload).

Today the banner across Vidme's homepage reads "Vidme–where fans support the creators they <3". The site is gaining traction: visits average 9 million per month, with a large segment referred there by social media (Reddit, Facebook and–interestingly–YouTube too). In December last year it announced $6 million in Series A funding, after a seed round of $3.2 million in 2015. That same year Vidme moved into original content, creating a series of one-minute documentaries. By May last year it announced the subscription feature, which lets creators reward paying subscribers with exclusive videos, badges and ad-free viewing, as well as the news that staff were testing ads visible to mobile users with a goal to enabling optional ad-based monetisation.

However, the young network has experienced growing pains. There's the issue of fake views which appeared in the view counts of videos linked-to on social media. There was the glitch, now fixed, which allowed access to subscriber-only videos. And there was the issue of child porn being posted to the site, which Vidme subsequently removed, but which didn't fail to attract Pizzagate truthers.

Vidme has been admirably transparent about addressing its failings, openly calling for feedback on Twitter and Reddit, where the company hosted an AMA three months ago (given their staff's frequent use of the site, it should be noted that one of the site's backers is Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian). But Vidme's success is a fragile thing–likely without deliberately courting this particular group, the site has attracted users who want it to be to YouTube what Gab.ai is to Reddit: a platform valuing free speech above all else. Vidme has even gained a degree of popularity among members of /r/The_Donald, who have long raged against their own platform's disapproval.

In terms of censorship, Vidme's users can choose whether or not they see NSFW content, but there has already been controversy over how the trending page works and whether the clips featured there are hand-picked (staff claim they're selected "based on a combination of factors", including upvotes, "team pick status" and how recently a video was published). Some "vidizens" claim politically incorrect videos are removed from the trending page, and that Vidme's censorship is worse than on YouTube's (though without offering much explanation). Meanwhile, Reddit is full of amateur /r/gonewild porn creators complaining that their posts are being removed, while others still claim that the surge in popularity has made Vidme "a complete horror story," with offensive posts flooding the site.

The recent changes prompt a question: who exactly is Vidme for? The efforts to filter out offensive content indicate a site looking beyond its role as the profanity-laced alternative to YouTube: a contender seeking to attract mainstream talent as well as those who have been booted from other platforms. Currently the Vidme community is small, and some of its biggest names are mirroring content already posted to YouTube. The site has also reached out to prominent YouTuber (and YouTube critic) Philip DeFranco, and posted a good-humored public response to Drama Alert's Keemstar after he compared moving to Vidme to playing an eight-year-old's birthday party instead of Madison Square Garden.

But beyond these gestures, the site more directly caters to smaller channels. Customer service is said to be responsive and helpful (for the record, Motherboard reached out to Vidme over Twitter and email, and unfortunately received no response). While Vidme says it's working on new ways to monetize videos, the current system hinges on a sense of intimacy: following Patreon's model, you can "tip" creators for videos you enjoyed or opt to subscribe for as low as $1 per month in return for exclusives (the amount each video has earned is displayed next to it, a feature some users have balked at).

At this early stage, the community is supportive, active and committed, and likely less hostile a place than YouTube. Is Vidme really a "YouTube killer"? Maybe not. But maybe it will be something entirely different.