Vine’s New GM Hannah Donovan On Monetization, Competition and Its Future at Twitter (EXCLUSIVE)

Hannah Domovan
Courtesy of Twitter

When Vine debuted back in early 2013, it was the hot new thing for creating and sharing short videos. Since then, we’ve seen short-form pop up everywhere, criticism about creators’ ability to monetize on the Twitter-owned platform and shiny new services like Snapchat steal some of Vine’s spotlight.

In May, Twitter hired Hannah Donovan as Vine’s new general manager to put the service back on the map. Donovan has an extensive background in online music; she co-founded the music sharing startup This Is My Jam, and later she led product and design at Drip, a startup now owned by Kickstarter that aimed to reinvent the fan-club experience.

On Thursday, Donovan will have an official coming-out during a fireside chat at Vidcon in Anaheim, Calif. In an exclusive interview with Variety, she shared some of her thoughts on what makes Vine tick, how its relationship with Twitter is evolving, and why six seconds is still the best length for a Vine. (The interview is edited for length.)

You worked many years for online music startups. What prompted you to add videos to the mix, and take this job at Vine?

I cannot think of a more exciting place to be right now. Video is quickly becoming the future of communication. In this world, I just can’t think of a more interesting intersection to be working than at Vine and at Twitter.

Vine made headlines this week when it announced that it will start to add longer videos, but not change the length of Vines themselves. Why did you stick with six seconds?

We believe in the power of short-­form at Vine and at Twitter. There is just so much amazing expression that we see from the brevity of the medium. And constraint is really breeding creativity. One of our creators said it’s like pouring the ocean into a cup. It really teaches them how to get better at timing, how to get better at editing and how to tell a joke better. We want to maintain the ethos and the brevity of Vine, but at the same time also give our creators a way to broaden their creative canvas.

How does adding monetization, which you also announced this week, change things for Viners?

We are so excited to be able to talk about this. These people are creators, they’re artists. It’s really important to me that we respect that and that we also fuel their creativity. A change like this will make it possible for them to be more creative and more expressive in the future.

Which role is Vine playing for Twitter these days? How are the services going to align in the future?

As you know, Vine is a part of Twitter, and we believe that there are many ways that we could integrate with each other and bolster each other. Vine creators want to be able to grow their fan base on Twitter more, and vice versa. An integration like this is just the beginning of many more steps to come in the future.

But will Vine will remain an independent entity, or will it be fully integrated? Where is Vine going?

Vine has a really strong brand, and Vine will always be Vine. Our Vine creators love Vine for what it is, the people that watch Vine love Vine for what it is. Vine and Twitter work extremely well together. Twitter is where conversations are happening right now, where news is happening right now. It’s the first place that you want to check in the morning to see what’s going on in the world. Vine is similar, but for entertainment.

There have been some reports of well-known Viners leaving the platform, and there’s obviously a lot more competition in video these days, with everyone from Facebook to Snapchat doing short-form video. How does all of that impact Vine?

We still see Vine as a place where trends are happening, where memes are exploding, where creativity is thriving. Something that’s important to address though is that teenagers, which is our demographic, grow up really fast. I think it’s important to recognize that Vine has a funnel.

Some of the top creators that were like OG on the platform back in the day, actually a lot of them, have gone on to  become professional actors now. For example, King Bach is now making a TV series with Fox. And what we have seen since then is a second wave of creators come through, and now even a third wave of creators that are up­-and-coming Viners right now.

You’ve only been at Vine for six weeks, but what do you want to focus on during the next six months?

I’ve been working in music and entertainment technology now for over a decade. My background is mostly in creating communities. That’s really what I’ve dedicated my career to, creating platforms for self­-expression. 

That’s why I’m so excited to be here at Vine: I’m very passionate about building communities, and that is something that we see as the heart and soul and lifeblood of Vine. Not just from the perspective of our creator community, but also from the perspective of our audience community, and that grey area in-between, where audience crosses over into creators. That’s an area that we will be focusing in on a lot.

And then the other big area is creativity. At the end of the day, Vine is not a tool. It’s a toy.