Like everyone in the online video world we’ve spent months wondering when we might get a peek at former Hulu CEO Jason Killar’s rumored YouTube rival, Vessel. The secretive startup launched in stealth mode last summer and has been the subject of frequent rumors about attempts to poach YouTube’s native talent with exclusive deals and bags of cash. Now Vessel is finally ready to deactivate its cloaking device and give video creators, and the media, a private look inside their plans for video domination.
Vessel founder Jason Killar took to the company’s blog today to finally unveil the details of the buzzy start-up. Like Killar’s previous home, Hulu, the secret sauce in Vessel’s recipe for success is subscriptions. In his post he describes a “blended model” that would generate revenue for content creators from both member subscriptions and sponsored advertising. Killar isn’t shy about taking on what he calls the “challenging economics” of the current fully ad-supported model for online video championed by YouTube. According to his estimates Vessel’s blended payouts could be as much as 20 times higher than those currently available to creators on other platforms, climbing as high as $50 per 1000 views.
Vessel’s pitch definitely puts creators first, not surprising since the company is betting big on its ability to woo established video makers with big followings. Their pitch correctly identifies some of the major problems with the current YouTube model for funding content, namely that it’s increasingly difficult to make the jump from hobbyist to self-sustaining professional creator. Still we know some YouTubers who would definitely disagree with Killar’s assertion that “it is extremely challenging – if not impossible- for most creators and content owners to realize their creative and professional ambitions,” and it’s those creators that Vessel desperately needs to succeed.
Vessel’s approach will likely appeal to creators in the middle, specifically those who are on the verge of becoming self-sustaining, but who aren’t quite earning enough from YouTube’s partner program to make it. However in order for the service to launch, and pull in the kind of audience it would need to sustain the subscription side of the equation, they’ll need the kind of chart topping creators who are already earning a comfortable living from YouTube. The offer of higher payouts may grab their attention, but in order to sway them Vessel will have to convince creators that it’s worth risking their audience to the major turnoff of a paywall. YouTube audiences are accustomed to getting their content for free and have historically not taken kindly to being asked to pay. Killar’s blended model of ads and subscriptions sounds attractive to creators on paper, but audiences haven’t really embraced the idea of paying AND watching ads. If they had, then Hulu, which also employs a blended model, wouldn’t lag so far behind pure-subscription Netflix and pure-ad supported YouTube.
Under CEO Susan Wojcicki YouTube has worked hard to cozy up to its content creators over the last year, presumably anticipating challengers like Vessel. YouTube has sunk serious money into creator spaces, new features, and a major advertising push for top creators. On top of that the company has committed serious money to new original content from established homegrown creators. With all that plus a six to seven figure income already on the table, it’s difficult to imagine many top creators heading for the lifeboats that Vessel is offering. Without major buy in from top creators and their audiences Vessel’s success is a major long shot.
Vessel claims to already have “a large number of creators who are in the midst of loading their content onto Vessel…from both new and traditional media.” Vessel will launch in full in early January 2015, but the site is offering an early sneak peek to video creators at $2.99 a month. Video creators interested in bringing their content to the new platform are encouraged to apply.