Vessel.com has officially launched after three months of beta operations limited to video creators and a select group of initial users. And to celebrate, the much-ballyhooed and heavily financed online-video site is giving away one-year subscriptions to people signing up in the site’s first 72 hours of full operations.
“We’re ready to light this candle,” CEO and co-founder Jason Kilar, formerly the founding CEO of Hulu, told me this evening. The site represents an ambitious attempt to create a new kind of distribution window for online video, all-you-can-eat subscriptions for $2.99 a month, for exclusive early access to content from about 135 companies and content creators, along with free, ad-supported content from 40 more.
The list of participating organizations includes traditional media companies such as NBCUniversal, Fox, A&E Networks, Discovery and major sports leagues.
Vessel also will have content from big online-video names, such as networks DanceOn and Tastemade. Machinima is making the fifth season of its gamer-oriented animated series Battlefield Friends exclusively available first on Vessel. Other contributors include Alec Baldwin, GloZell Green, Jukin Media‘s FailArmy, Mythbusters, Phillip DeFranco, Shane Dawson, Connor Franta and Ingrid Nilsen. On the music side, Universal Music Group and Warner Music Group are contributing.
Some content, such as clips and highlights from NBC’s Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon and Late Night With Seth Meyers, will be available for free on the site’s ad-supported side. Other contributors to the ad-supported side include Universal Sports, the NBA, What’s Trending, Funny Or Die, Time Inc. publications, the New York Times, Buzzfeed and Vevo.
All the content behind the paywall will be exclusive to Vessel for at least 72 hours from initial launch.
In the three months since the site first opened for online-video creators to try out, Kilar said several changes have been made, including adding sports programming and video-game-related content. The company also simplified the sign-up process, given the problems of picking through 175 creators, and improved the content-publishing system for creators.
The site has been subject to intense scrutiny since it surfaced that Kilar and former Hulu CTO Richard Tom were working on a new project, and that it had raised more than $75 million from a group of prominent Silicon Valley venture-capital firms and other big investors. That money allowed the company to recruit prominent YouTubers with guaranteed upfront revenue deals and revenue splits far richer than anything YouTube (or any other social-media platform) has provided even its most popular stars.
“When Rich and I started Vessel, we believed this was a unique moment in online video,” Kilar wrote in a just-posted blog entry announcing the site’s public launch. “Technology has opened a world of possibilities for video delivered over the web. We started this journey because we saw those possibilities and had a vision for what online video could be.”
That vision includes a belief that mobile is the future of video, and creators are developing a wide array of new kinds of programming that is far different from what is traditionally created for old-school television, Kilar wrote.
Just as importantly, Kilar said, the online-video business is beginning the process of creating new distribution windows, just as the film business once did as it branched out from theatrical exhibition, and the TV business did, as it moved beyond broadcast first-run shows.
“Both (industries) developed sophisticated windowing strategies,” Kilar told me. Now, media companies “need to make sure their digital content strategies match their traditional media content strategies.”
Vessel is available as an iOS app from Apple or through Vessel.com. The ad-supported side of the site will have a sharply limited array of advertising, something Kilar said was important for the overall site experience. Five-second videos and GIF-like motion videos with brands will be seen sparingly.