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Why Is 'High Maintenance' Leaving the Web for TV? Because It's Going to HBO.

Some of the most popular, most acclaimed video lives exclusively on the Web these days. But HBO is still a different beast from the rest of TV.

Peter Kafka covers media and technology, and their intersection, at Vox. Many of his stories can be found in his Kafka on Media newsletter, and he also hosts the Recode Media podcast.

It’s 2015, so we don’t have to wonder when the Internet is going to catch up to TV anymore. That’s a past-tense question.

Some of the world’s biggest stars — if you’re a teenager — live on YouTube, Vine and Snapchat. Some of the world’s most popular — or, at least, buzzy — shows are on Netflix.

So why was there a visible ripple of excitement today when HBO announced it was going to start running “High Maintenance,” a much-liked dramedy that has been living on IAC’s Vimeo site until now?

Because the other way to look at the news might be disappointment, since the move implies that the Internet isn’t good enough for the most talented, most ambitious video makers.

Vimeo championed “High Maintenance,” a series of funny/melancholy vignettes about the life of a weed dealer, since 2013. Most recently it bankrolled six new episodes, which it got to tout at South By Southwest as evidence of its commitment to creating awesome content and “redefining storytelling.”

The New Yorker loves it. So does your hip friend, the one who says it’s this year’s best show. So why does it need to graduate from the Web to TV? Why is the move an “incredible validation,” as Vimeo’s goodbye-farewell press release puts it?

For the record, says Vimeo CEO Kerry Trainor, his company would have liked to have kept “High Maintenance” for another season, but even in that case he imagined it might live on his site and TV at the same time. And Trainor said Vimeo bid to keep the show for itself.

My hunch: If Vimeo had been going up against Starz, or VH-1, or any other TV network, it might have had a real shot. But not against Time Warner’s pay channel, which can trump it with both dollars and cachet.

Some of the latter likely has to do with the network’s hotter-than-hot streak — “Games of Thrones,” “True Detective,” “The Jinx,” “Veep,” “Silicon Valley,” “Girls,” etc., etc., etc. But I think some of it also has to do with the channel’s very nature: It’s not the Web, it’s HBO — which means it’s very curated, with a very specific point of view.

That gives HBO branding that means a lot, both on TV and on the Web. Which is why Netflix’s first big move into original programming was “House of Cards,” whose lineage, cast and budget all screamed “just as good as HBO.”

And it’s why sober people think HBO could sell a lot of $15-a-month subscriptions to HBO Now, its Web-only service aimed at people who love HBO but don’t want to pay for any other TV.

The good news for Vimeo, and the rest of the Web, is that for now, at least, you can still see “High Maintenance” without paying for HBO. The first 13 episodes of the series are streaming for free, and the last six are available for $2 a pop, or $8 for the whole set. That’s seven bucks less than a month of HBO.

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