White House Quietly Adds Vimeo for Video
By Garance Franke-Ruta
The first Saturday presidential address on Jan. 24 was made available at the White House as a YouTube file.
But by the next week, on Jan. 31, an administration whose innovative use of YouTube videos had helped propel it into the White House quietly began offering video of President Obama through Vimeo, as well -- and in so doing began a low-key push back at the near-total dominance of Google-owned YouTube in the political video market.
A video-sharing social media site that offers standard and high-definition video options, Vimeo was founded before YouTube, in 2004. But a series of pointed editorial choices has kept the company small while YouTube, founded in 2005, exploded into national consciousness over the next few years. Instead of becoming a cultural byword for online video, Vimeo became a niche favorite among artists and other creative types, particularly in the New York area, where the company is based.
Vimeo prides itself on "providing a safe and positive environment for people to share their videos," says Blake Whitman, Vimeo's community director. That means no porn, no TV and movie clips or trailers and nothing uploaded on the site that's not user-generated - as well as a strong community ethic against "negative" content and comments.
"Vimeo is not a sea of eyeballs that you must trick into increasing your view count," the company states in its declaration of principles cum user guide. "It is a vibrant community of intelligent and creative people."
It's also one of the online leaders in providing HD video online -- something increasingly valuable as HDTV signals and televisions gain prominence. Now the Obama administration is using Vimeo as one more tool in its efforts to reach supporters, wherever they may be -- and whatever software they may be using to get there.
"President Obama believes we need to open up government to its citizens," explained White House spokesman Nick Shapiro. "The weekly address is just one example of the Obama administration using cutting-edge technologies to create a new level of transparency, accountability, and participation for America's citizens."
In many ways, Vimeo's ethical hipster editorial philosophy makes it a more natural fit than YouTube for a buttoned-up government Web site looking to offer video to the masses while minimizing risks that consumers will be referred to offensive material developed by other users of a video sharing service.
Team Obama reached out to Vimeo shortly after winning election. "So, basically, we were contacted by one of their new media staff, by instant messenger actually," Whitman explains. "They set up a phone call and said they were interested in using Vimeo."
The company set up a channel for the transition effort and, later, the White House. "We were really excited by it," he adds. "It's a great thing to have the White House recognize Vimeo."
One reason the administration has stuck with YouTube, beyond its incredible popularity and mindshare, is the law. Section 508 of the 1998 Rehabilitation Act requires government entities to make electronic communications accessible to people with disabilities. YouTube files have an easy-to-use closed captioning function, which makes the president's weekly Saturday addresses available to the deaf.
In addition to Vimeo and YouTube, the White House makes the presidential addresses available as mp3 audio files and mp4 video files that can be uploaded into any video player. (YouTube video files can be shared through linking and embedding but they cannot be downloaded for insertion into, say, Brightcove players.)
And today, the YouTube version of the president's address wasn't even easily found on WhiteHouse.gov's blog, which offered up a flash video player with no logo as its main mechanism for viewing, then linked out -- under the link "also available here" -- to Vimeo.
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