Weeks after it came out of stealth mode and allowed online-video creators in to kick the tires, the heavily financed startup Vessel.com has opened to the public, offering all-you-can-eat subscriptions for exclusive early access to content from an array of prominent media companies and online stars.
The site has launched to consumers in beta form, and invite-only, CEO and co-founder Jason Kilar wrote in a blog post this morning. That means it is largely ready to go but may still have some bugs and possible design or other changes.
Those who get in will find it optimized for consumption on smartphones and tablets, strikingly designed, with enticing motion graphics for each creator’s site that are among the most attractive on the web. For $2.99 a month, Vessel subscribers will get exclusive early access to new video from dozens of content providers, including Sports Illustrated, Alec Baldwin, Machinima, boy band Boyce Avenue and major beauty vlogger Ingrid Nilsen (aka, MissGlamorazzi).
Kilar, who was founding CEO of Hulu and previously worked at Amazon, told me the company is trying to create a new distribution window for online video, much like the “ladder” of distribution windows that so profitably characterize both the film business and television.
Online video up to now has had only one distribution window: ad-supported, free distribution on sites such as YouTube. With Vessel, hard-core fans of YouTube creators and other content providers will get access at least three days before anyone else to the latest videos from their favorite providers (the length of the exclusive window is set by the content creator).
In exchange for exclusivity, content providers will get much larger shares of advertising and subscription revenue than they get from YouTube (though YouTube at least provides a revenue share, unlike Facebook and most other online sites). I have had business advisers from some of YouTube’s biggest creators tell me that, to entice away that talent, Vessel has offered their clients contracts that would guarantee revenues at levels several times beyond what they have ever realized from YouTube.
Kilar said the company also will work closely with video creators to help them make more ambitious and sophisticated programming than they may have been able to do in the past, part of taking “a leading role in dramatically raising the bar for video quality.”
The site is designed to be mobile-friendly, and will be available on the Web and with iOS apps for Apple mobile devices, with an Android app to come soon. It also will have a non-subscription side with content that is available simultaneously elsewhere.
Since announcing the service last month, Vessel has signed on more video creators and content partners, including 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. Other previously announced creators include Warner Music Group, A+E Networks, YouTube stars Shane Dawson, Marcus Butler and Caspar Lee, and Jay Z‘s Life+Times.
Given the pedigree of Kilar and co-founder Richard Tom (Hulu’s former chief technical officer), they’ve had little trouble raising money from blue-chip Silicon Valley funders, including Kilar’s old boss Jeff Bezos of Amazon, Benchmark (which has backed Uber, Twitter, Snapchat and Instagram) and Greylock Partners (Facebook, Tumblr, LinkedIn, Pandora).
All told, Vessel has raised a reported $75 million in startup capital, a number Kilar did not dispute, saying the company wants to be able to do things right in its launch.
Here’s Kilar’s blog post about opening the site to the public:
Last month, we opened Vessel to content creators. Today, we’re excited to invite their fans to try Vessel as we start an invite-required beta of our service.
With Vessel, fans will get early access to the web’s best short-form videos in a beautiful, cinematic environment – for only $2.99 per month. 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 the world’s most talented video creators, channels and artists – are enjoyed by hundreds of millions of fans around the world.
The Vessel experience was designed for mobile devices, which enable fans to snack on videos wherever and whenever they want. Today, Vessel is available on iOS devices (iPhones and iPads) and on the web (all laptop and desktop computers). Soon, we’ll also release Vessel for Android devices. Our vision is to make Vessel accessible anywhere fans have an internet-connected screen, including gaming consoles, set-top boxes and smart TVs.
We’re in the process of inviting fans who have registered to try our service, sending invites on a first-come, first-served basis. If you’d like to join our beta and try Vessel free for a month, you can sign up here <http://vessel.com>.
We’re very thankful for the trust that creators have placed in us as we welcome their fans on this first day. Our team will be carefully reading every piece of feedback we receive during this beta…and working hard to improve the service each day.
On behalf of our team, thank you for this opportunity to serve creators and their fans the world over.
CEO & Co-Founder