Over the last couple of months a new start up company called Vessel has been making waves throughout the YouTube community.
At its core, the platform is a simple subscription service that brings users videos from their favourite content creators (or at least the ones who’ve signed up for it) 72 hours before they go live on YouTube, for a minimal fee. It’s the conceptual love child of YouTube and Netflix.
Founded by Ex-CEO of Hulu, Jason Kilar, Vessel has sparked a very public debate between YouTubers and viewers alike. A simple search on Twitter or Tumblr uncovers an overwhelming amount of opinions on the ethics of the site and rumours on what it actually is. What does the service actually mean for online video content, and more importantly, is it a real threat to YouTube as a platform? TenEighty investigates.
“The free web has allowed many creators to build an audience, but it is tough to build a sustainable business,” reads a statement on Vessel’s website. This is where their service comes in by offering content creators the chance of a higher income.
On YouTube, a top tier creator is said to earn about $2 to $3 per thousand views. With Vessel, that same video will bring the creator about $50 per thousand views. Similarly, it is estimated that YouTube takes about 45% of the ad revenue that is brought in by the traffic to the site, which leaves YouTubers with about 55%. Vessel proposes that they will be able to offer a split around 70% to 30% in terms of ad revenue in favour of the content creators.
What does this service look like for the consumer? If your favourite YouTuber normally uploads on a Friday, their video might go live on Vessel on Tuesday, or as long as a month in advance. You’ll pay $2.99 a month, which is less than a Netflix subscription, in order to get early access to these videos.
Many established YouTubers, such as Tanya Burr, Marcus Butler, and Caspar Lee have already signed up to use this service. In the time leading up to Vessel’s official launch on March 24, however, most YouTubers involved hadn’t actively promoted the service.
Although there were a few instances where certain creators broke radio silence. Caspar, in a YouNow broadcast on February 25, was confronted about the platform and held an uncensored discussion with his viewers. “I never promoted it before because I didn’t want people to feel like they have to use this website,” he explained.
“If you want to use this website, you can use this website,” he continued. “I didn’t know people felt upset about it and I’m trying to figure out why. I’m not going to stop using it either, I can’t stop using it for reasons I can’t talk about… but I wanted to talk about it and discuss how you guys feel about this website.”
Following the platform’s official launch there was an influx of videos and tweets officially announcing each individual’s involvement with the website. Marcus uploaded a prologue to his daily vlog explaining what Vessel is and how he is using it.
Like many others using the site, he assures his audience that his involvement with Vessel, would change nothing about his YouTube channel. “I don’t want to force anyone to go over there. I’m making this purely to be upfront with you. If you want to see them a few days early, they will be there on Vessel,” he says. “If not, which maybe the majority of you aren’t interested in, absolutely nothing changes on my YouTube.”
Admittedly, the site itself is striking. With a very clean, easy to navigate and hyper-organised layout, it seems, at this stage, to have the potential to give YouTube a run for its money in terms of the user experience.
And it’s not just high-profile YouTubers that are utilising the site either. Mainstream media companies like BuzzFeed, Ted, Warner Music Group, Universal Music Group, and the New York Times have also signed contracts with the company – and why not? From a business perspective, the service makes complete sense.
Speaking to TenEighty, Dean Dobbs explains that it’s surprising a platform like this hasn’t popped up sooner. “I’m sure you’ve seen various YouTubers vent their frustrations about how YouTube works so it may be more like a competitive boost that kicks YouTube off its bum a little bit,” says Dean.
Commenting that YouTube currently holds the monopoly of online video streaming, Dean is interested to see how they’ll react. “Who knows, maybe they’ll fix the sub box!” he jokes.
For the first three days, Vessel offered everyone who signed up a year’s free subscription. They also released three exclusive videos recapping Playlist Live 2015, which the company sponsored. In addition, there are contests being held, such as the chance to be in a video with Nash Grier, as incentive to join the platform.
— Nash Grier (@Nashgrier) March 26, 2015
While that will account for a mass flooding of initial subscriptions, will the site be able to maintain that sort of traffic? Furthermore, will all of that be enough for Vessel to ultimately overthrow YouTube as the reigning power of online video?
Ultimately, YouTube is a main source of income for many of the site’s top creators. As a hard working individual it isn’t so farfetched to assume that many would jump at the chance to receive more money for the work they are doing.
However, the past year has also seen many fans expressing their irritation towards the rise of product placements and sponsored videos. While the money YouTubers are earning from those opportunities isn’t coming directly from the viewer’s pockets, many fans have begun to accuse creators of being money-hungry and making content purely for monetary gain.
Recently, the UK’s advertising regulator ASA stepped in on this issue, asserting that there will be a crackdown on the ways in which vloggers inform viewers that a specific video was a paid advertisement. Very rapidly, Vessel has become an expansion to the wider dispute.
While there is general consensus among YouTubers themselves that product placements, and by extension the new regulations, are a positive aspect to the growth of YouTube, there is strife forming between them in terms of Vessel.
Emma Blackery, for example, recently took to twitter to voice her opinion on the platform.
Similarly, after it’s launch, YouTuber Cherry Wallis jested, saying in a tweet: “I might start a website like Vessel, but where you can watch videos for free… oh wait – YouTube already did that. Damn”.
I might start a website like Vessel, but where you can watch videos for free… oh wait – YouTube already did that. Damn.
— Cherry Wallis (@CherryWallis) March 26, 2015
YouTube is known for being inclusive and, up until now, equal. Part of the appeal of YouTube is that no matter what your financial standing you still have the same access to videos as everyone else – which is part of what forms the YouTube community. Tyler Oakley commented on this in response to a fan asking him about Vessel. “Its important to me to make sure my content stays equally accessible to all,” he tweeted.
@sivoaktrees nope! passed on it. was important to me to make sure my content stays equally accessible to all. ✌️
— Tyler Oakley (@tyleroakley) February 25, 2015
While under $3 a month may not seem like a lot, there will undoubtably be those that cannot afford to subscribe, which raises concern that it could affect friendships within fandoms by creating a bizarre hierarchy between those who can afford exclusivity and those who can’t. “It splits up the fandoms because some people will be talking about the new video early and the people who don’t have Vessel will either be spoiled or not be able to talk to them about it,” reads a blog-post from Tumblr user Awkward-Lee.
On the other hand, Vessel isn’t just about exclusivity for the viewers. Content creators have to apply to be a partnered channel, and presumably Vessel have a certain criteria and entry level. “Unlike YouTube, where anyone can post videos, Vessel isn’t self-service,” an article from USA Today explains. “You have to apply to have your videos accepted.”
From this it’s clear that while Vessel aims to be the next go-to place for online video, they’re really just cultivating the best that YouTube already has to offer. And, as Tumblr user Beaty-Guru-Confessions points out, what’s stopping die-hard fans from capturing Vessel videos and uploading them to YouTube themselves? Thus stifling the view count and and ad revenue of the content creators who’ve signed up.
The realm of possibilities for Vessel are endless. While the further implications seem clear to some, we reckon it ‘s safe to assume it poses no immediate threat to YouTube. However, the rise of Vessel – along with the fragmenting of YouTube gatherings and the emergence of celebrity culture within the community – does tell us one thing; exclusivity is here to stay.
Exclusivity and celebrity culture are topics that aren’t limited to Vessel. Check out features such as our recent article about YouTube Gatherings in the UK, or our analysis of The YouTube Culture Debate for more.