New Video Platform Vessel Makes YouTube Nervous

 – Vessel has YouTube sweating according to numerous reports.

By Kendra Chamberlain

Vessel is the newest online video platform on the block, from Hulu’s founder and former CEO, Jason Kilar.

The service is an online video platform, much like YouTube; it’s a place where both conventional and unconventional content creators post videos, develop channels and reach audiences in the online video space; and much like YouTube, content creators are able to monetize their videos through advertising.



Vessel: Attractive opportunities


One of the big differences between the two is that Vessel is paying its content creators 70% of the ad revenue generated by their videos, which explains why some of YouTube’s creators have migrated over to the new platform – and that’s the threat, according to the Wall Street Journal, that has YouTube signing its top content creators to multi-year contract deals to stay on the platform.

For content creators, the opportunity is very attractive. Kilar said recently that content owners can make up to 20 times the ad revenue they see on YouTube and other ad-supported video platforms. However, that revenue potential comes with a price: the content creators have to give Vessel a 72-hour window of exclusivity. That means these content creators will post their new videos to Vessel three days before they post the videos to any other video platform, including YouTube or Vimeo.

For the viewer, the value is less clear. Vessel is comprised of two tiers: a free, ad-supported tier, and a $2.99 per month subscription tier. The subscription gives viewers the opportunity to see new videos posted first – but “first” here means only three days before those same videos will appear on both YouTube and Vessel for free. The question is: Are there any viewers that want to pay to watch a video they can see for free a few days later?

Kilar says yes. “There are passionate fans that love great content and that early access is something that’s very important to them,” he said in an interview with Re/Code this week.

There are plenty of doubters out there, but to be fair this is uncharted territory. YouTube’s own subscription service hasn’t been very successful, or if it has, no one seems to want to talk about it. Part of that is due to the fact that YouTube is synonymous with free, so paying a monthly subscription fee – even if only $1.99 – seems unfair.

While Vessel doesn’t have the same associations as YouTube, the three-day window is so short that it seems unlikely that viewers will shell out monthly fees to Vessel in order to watch short videos that they can see for free in just a few days.

Ultimately, the success of the subscription service will be driven on the quality of content being uploaded to the site. The typical bedroom confessional style vlog that populates YouTube, and that has turned many a YouTube personality into a full-fledged celebrity, won’t cut it. The subscription service will need compelling, premium series that draw viewers in and will bring them back to the site week after week. We’re not talking about “Breaking Bad” here, but something more scripted than the average PewDiePie vlog.

Vessel is still working on signing up content partners. So far, it has a selection of bigger media brands that have moved into video, some pay TV companies that have clipped down programming into promotional, 2-minute tastes, and of course YouTube personalities.

Much of the buzz around Vessel has swirled around the idea of YouTubers and their respective audiences moving to the new platform. The elephant in the room is that YouTubers haven’t fared particularly well off YouTube, at least not by the metrics YouTube has helped create and define in the world of online video. For its audience, YouTube itself has become a habit, akin to turning on the TV, or putting on the radio. Viewers do it when they are looking for something specific and when they are bored, and thanks to YouTube’s recommendations and playlist features, “YouTubing” is now both a lean forward and lean back entertainment experience.



Paraphrasing Danny Kaye: Is Vessel the brew that is true?


Thanks to Google’s integration, and its sheer popularity, YouTube is sticky, while Vessel, at present, is slick. So if a YouTube channel posts its newest videos on Vessel, there’s no guarantee that audiences will go to Vessel to watch the videos – especially if the content will be available on YouTube just a few days later.

At least one YouTube channel feels that shifting new content to Vessel will actually hurt subscriber numbers. Steve Oh, COO of The Young Turks, told SF Chronicler that moving to Vessel would be a “crazy” move for the online video network, and that the channel would lose too many viewers. The Young Turks, instead, has expanded to Facebook with a new digital series that is exclusive to that platform.


Vessel has a few strikes against it. First, it’s a subscription model in a world of free; second, subscribers and non-subscribers alike will see adverts. Kilar has described the model as “modest advertising,” and I would agree that, in my experience the ads weren’t terribly obtrusive. Still, it may rub some consumers the wrong way.

Third, the content, at present, isn’t anything to write home about. Here’s a short list of some of the content available on the site as of press time:

Media Companies:
Financial Times
Outside Television
National Geographic
PBS Digital Studios
Wall Street Journal
New York Times
A&E Networks

Shane Dawson
Connor Franta
Good Mythical Morning
Marcus Butler
Ingrid Nilsen

Vessel has also signed up a handful of high-profile exclusivity deals, including a deal with Above Average for the new season of the Web series “Alec Baldwin’s Love Ride.” The new season will appear on Vessel exclusively for the first 72 hours, with new episodes appearing every two weeks.

Vessel also this week signed a music deal with Universal Music Group (UMG), which will bow some artists’ videos on Vessel exclusively before becoming available on the ad-supported site.

“Vessel represents the latest business model innovation for premium short-form content,” said Lucian Grainge, chairman and chief executive officer of UMG, of the deal. UMG didn’t say which artists would participate.

Music videos could quickly become an important genre for Vessel. It’s easy to see viewers sign up for the $2.99 per month fee if it meant being able to watch new music videos from favorite artists a full three days before those videos became available on YouTube.

It will be a challenge for Vessel to sign up record labels. YouTube, remember, is trying to launch its own music-video subscription service, called YouTube Music Key, and won’t likely let those important video releases slip passed its platform easily. YouTube has the benefit of its large pocketbook, with which Vessel cannot compete.


Some Other First-time User Thoughts

Here are some of our other thoughts about the Vessel video service, after exploring it last week.
-Per usual, the big brands don’t quite get online video. The New York Times only offers two Web series (at present), which makes its channel boring. Same with National Geographic.
-Some big brands totally get it, though: Time and PBS are notable in this regard, especially PBS, with its wonderful “Blank on Blank” Web series.
-We bet the typical vlog-style videos won’t perform nearly as well as the scripted skit-style videos that content makers create for YouTube on this platform.
Not a single music video played for me, while most of the other videos played without pauses or buffering. Luckily for me but not Vessel, we could always find the music on YouTube and watch the video there.
-Not all the content is “short-form,” and we think there’s room for more long-form content on the site, especially behind the paywall.
-Vessel’s recommendations are hardly interesting. YouTube is a self-promoting machine, thanks to its algorithms. Vessel only seems to recommend videos from the same channel, which we found limiting.

-No playlist feature, which can be quite nice when watching a string of videos from a particular series or genre, and would likely be a surefire way to increase viewing session lengths.
-Viewers – ourselves included – will forget to go to Vessel if there’s no reason to in the first place. So Vessel will need to work out some social media campaigns. For example, …

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