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Vimeo CEO Kerry Trainor on 'Bittersweet' Success of 'High Maintenance' Moving to HBO

A&E Chief Executive Nancy Dubuc is asked -- but doesn't say much -- about when Vice will get its own cable channel.

Natalie Fonseca / Re/code

For Vimeo chief executive Kerry Trainor, the breakout success of the Web comedy series “High Maintenance” was a bittersweet triumph for the on-demand Web video service.

The critically acclaimed show, which follows a pot dealer’s encounters with his idiosyncratic clients in Brooklyn, earned critical praise. The show’s creators, husband-and-wife team Katja Blichfeld and Ben Sinclair, even reaped financial rewards, seeing revenue in the “hundreds of thousands of dollars,” Trainor told Re/code senior editor Peter Kafka at the cable industry’s Internet & Television Expo in Chicago Thursday.

But the ultimate marker of TV success? HBO picked up the show for six episodes and plans to distribute past episodes on HBO Now and HBO Go later this year.

“There’s a certain amount of bittersweetness, for sure,” Trainor said of the show’s transition from the Web to TV. “We supported them, we would love to continue to fund them. But at the same time, look, that type of opportunity.”

Trainor said Vimeo wants its creators to flourish, and an economically mature television programmer like HBO can offer rich rewards. It would be hypocritical, he said, to want something less, though he notes that that won’t always be the case.

“Consumption always predates the economic shift,” Trainor said. “When I look to the future, the footing is just going to become more equal. … The online paid ecosystem is about two years old. Maybe a decade form now, if we’re capturing some 10 or 12 percent of the market, that’s what you’re looking at.”

A&E chief executive Nancy Dubuc, who was on the panel alongside Trainor, said digital platforms represent a growth area for the networks, one where A&E can cultivate a direct relationship with viewers and launch programming for passionate niche audiences.

“We know romance novels are a huge thing. Can we do a romance novel show on our network? I’m not sure,” Dubuc said. “Could we do something really cool in a digital, interactive way?”

The established TV networks also are evolving to reflect changing consumer tastes, she said.

“Each generation wants their own form of entertainment and their own form of storytelling,” Dubuc said. “I can’t program the History Channel today in the same way that I programmed it 10 years ago.”

When A&E invested $250 million for a 10 percent stake in Vice Media last year, media observers expected the millennial programmer to produce shows for A&E’s documentary channel, H2, and as recently as last week, it appeared A&E would rebrand H2 as the Vice channel. But the announcement was held up, because the network and DirecTV have yet to reach an agreement to carry the channel.

Dubuc expressed optimism that Vice Media founder Shane Smith would one day bring his brand of storytelling to the living room TV, but avoided directly responding to questions about the launch of a new Vice channel.

“We love the Vice guys, we believe in them. We’re investors. We believe in them, in the creative work that they’ve done. … What they built is incredible,” Dubuc said. “I hope Shane gets a channel one day. Beyond that, I can’t comment.”

(Re/code is conducting some of the interviews at the show this year as part of a partnership with the NCTA.)

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