Vessel, the new online video start-up that will inevitably be compared to YouTube for the first several years of its existence, is officially debuting today in beta.
It is betting that sufficient millions of users will pay $2.99 a month to get a chance to see content in a three-day exclusive window before that same material is made available on other sites, including YouTube and a free version of Vessel at other places, too.
If it succeeds, it will mean a few things have happened:
*Online video viewers will pay for their favorite video artists, either because they want to see their new material first, or out of loyalty to them and the very idea of online video. For the Internet, where “free” has always been a four-letter word that users love to use the most, that’s a huge leap, which might encourage more to follow.
*Netflix, which has been charging all along, but mainly for more established material like movies and TV shows, has sufficiently loosened up the market.
*Video creators, who don’t have that many places to monetize their goods, may be establishing a marketplace or a pecking order, just like theatrical movies move from the cinema to DVDs to pay platforms. Creating that pipeline is CEO Jason Kilar’s goal, supposedly. But there’s no saying that once invented, it won’t morph into something completely different.
*For the first time, anticipating competition, YouTube has been advertising some of its best known talents and trying to widen their exposure. As money enters, a broader collection of consumers will get to know vloggers who, in another world, already have millions of followers but not that much money to show for it. Vessel is giving its talent 70% of the ad revenue, a much better deal than YouTube offers.
*It will also mean that at some point, sooner than later, consumers are going to start adding up all those charges for content and decide that either this online nibbling is the way to feed their entertainment habit, or not. With HBO and Showtime’s new online pay sites beckoning, and Dish’s SlingTV coming, and others, too, it will be time for users to start using their calculators and figure out what visual content is costing and what it's worth.
The answers are bound to be surprising. Right now, a lot of people have decided they can wait a little while, and pay a low monthly fee, to see television hits that in many cases they could have seen for “free” to start with. They have decided to wait until theatrical films get to Netflix, cable pay services and other providers.
At some point, cost will become a consideration, like it does for almost every other good or service, or cable subscription, in this world. TubeFilter’s Sam Gutelle, who wrote a good primer on Kilar’s vision for the new service, refers to the “mere” $2.99 monthly charge, while adding that advertising also tags along, just as it does at Hulu Plus. (Kilar formerly ran that place, too.) In Gutelle’s view, “this may seem like a big hassle for the super fans Vessel hopes to attract, but neither source of revenue seems particularly intrusive.”
I think the jury is out on that one. In a welcoming blog post, Kilar enthuses: “Fans will discover an amazing variety of videos, representing virtually any interest: music, food and travel; beauty, science and vlogging; gaming, pranks and sports; comedy, ideas and pop culture; and many more. These videos —from many of today’s most talented video creators, channels and artists— are enjoyed by hundreds of millions of fans around the world.”
Unsaid is that many (most? all?) of these creators also have free content on YouTube. And I don’t know. I can wait three days to see the latest Shane Dawson video.
In fact, Vessel does have a pretty long list of contributors from day one, according to its PR department: They include Anna Akana, Roman Atwood, Tanya Burr, Epic Meal Time, “Equals Three,” Explosm Entertainment, Connor Franta, Nerdist Industries, Arden Rose, Jimmy Tatro, Brittani Louise Taylor, Unbox Therapy, Jack Vale and Wassabi Productions. An impressive roster of content partners includes multichannel networks like Machinima, Tastemade and DanceOn; popular video creators like Rhett & Link, Marcus Butler, Caspar Lee and Ingrid Nilsen and the aforementioned Dawson.
Traditional media companies, like A+E Networks and the Warner Music Group; and series and channels ike IconicTV’s “Jay Z’s Life+Times” and Above Average Productions’ “Alec Baldwin’s Love Ride” -- developed explicitly for the Web -- are also on board.
The ads, according to TubeFilter, will either be conventional pop up as users scroll through Vessel’s menu, or appear as pre-roll, but only for “five or six seconds.” Reportedly, sponsors in from the get-go are Corona Extra, Chevy, Land Rover/Jaguar, and Unilever’s Axe, Dove, Suave and St Ives brands.
Will it work? It’s a good story for 2015, and beta testers in the first few weeks will no doubt be shaping Vessel as much as they might be enjoying it. Like everything, time will tell. But like everything online, not very much email@example.com