Vessel, a new streaming video service founded by former Hulu CEO Jason Kilar, is officially ready for primetime. The service launched Tuesday (March 24) at midnight PST / 3 a.m. EST, with an emphasis on exclusive new content available to users for $2.99 a month (for a 72-hour minimum) or curated library content for free. Users who register for the site for its first 72 hours (until midnight PST March 27) at Vessel.com or on the Apple App Store will receive a year of free access to the paid service.
Though lifestyle and comedy content makes up the bulk of Vessel’s initial offerings (i.e. YouTube-associated creators like Epic Meal Time, Rhett & Link and Philip DeFranco), the company has inked deals with Universal Music Group and Warner Music Group to provide exclusive content through its paid tier (as well as Vevo for library content.) Additionally, Vessel will unveil partnerships with independent artists and emerging musical creators, with popular cover band Boyce Avenue on-board as the first act to premiere content with the service at launch. In total, Vessel will launch with more than 170 different content partners, 135 of which joined the service since a 60-day beta debuted in January.
The initial premieres will roll out this week, with Warner Nashville debuting Blake Shelton’s latest music video for “Sangria” today (March 24), For King & Country’s “Fix My Eyes” video on Wednesday (March 25) and new clips for acts Hunter Hayes and Jana Kramer in the coming weeks, all for three days on Vessel before the videos become available for free on other services. Additionally, Warner Bros. Records will release a new video for Big Data’s “Dangerous,” with exclusive clips from GTA and Kaskade also in the offing, and Atlantic will premiere a new video from Galantis in April. Universal is expected to announce its first Vessel premieres in the coming days.
“As we all know, it’s very fair to say the economics of free services are not what creators would love for them to be at this stage. But whether you’re a major-label artist like Blake Shelton or an independent artist like Boyce Avenue, we want to be a force to help them,” Kilar tells Billboard. “We’re just very excited about helping them tap into that type of business model. We think you’ll see musicians leap further into that part of the web as opposed to questioning whether they should be leveraging it so aggressively.”
Such improved economics will include a favorable revenue share: $7 per subscriber for creators whose fans convert, on top of a 60% share of subscription revenue (allocated based on the creator’s share of total views) and a 70% share of advertising revenue (compared to the 55% that YouTube currently offers.) Kilar says ad rates are also selling at a premium, fetching as high as $55 costs-per-thousand viewer guarantees (CPM)s from initial sponsors Chevy, Corona, Jaguar/Land Rover, Lifetime, McDonald’s, SquareSpace, TGI Fridays, and Unilever (Axe, Dove Hair, Suave, Dove Body, St. Ives), among others.
Advertising will be kept to a minimum length — 75% of the advertising will be 5-second pre-rolls, while the remaining 25% will be 15-second pre-rolls (paid subscribers will only be served 5-second pre-rolls). Fellow Hulu alum JP Colaco is leading ad sales.
Though Vessel’s windows start at a minimum of three days, Kilar says creators are already extending them as far as one week before releasing to other services. Jonathan Pardo, who manages Boyce Avenue at Free Association Management, says the Vessel team’s flexible approach brings a refreshing approach to the increasingly crowded streaming music marketplace.
“They’re not music guys, they come form Hulu and Netflix so they’re very content-driven and friendly,” Pardo says. “There’s always that fear in the music industry, like ‘Shit, if I go out on a limb, this is my last branch.’ The Vessel guys don’t have that — they have that bright-eyed bushy tailed optimism that we don’t have.”
Plus, the Vessel business model will enable Boyce Avenue to better monetize more ancillary, “vlog”-style video posts about the band members’ other hobbies that would be harder to monetize on YouTube without licensed music. “Some of the videos might not have the same critical mass, so if you’re not getting 50 million views on a music video or an audio recording, the revenue picture can be a lot smaller. But now we can say there’s two windows for all this content, and it will still go on YouTube. We love our fans, and we want them to have an extra window where they can get bonus content.”
As for Kilar, he and his 40-person company are ready to hit the streets to negotiate more exclusive deals across the UMG and WMG suites. “We put these deals in place at the CEO level, in the case of Universal, so it really covers the company,” Kilar says. “Every other time I had a conversation about this, I’ve had to sign a non-disclosure. Tonight, I’ll be able to speak freely.”