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Vessel, the Site That Wants You to Pay to Watch Web Videos, Opens to the Public

Jason Kilar built a big video service at Hulu. Can he do it again?

Asa Mathat
Peter Kafka covers media and technology, and their intersection, at Vox. Many of his stories can be found in his Kafka on Media newsletter, and he also hosts the Recode Media podcast.

Are you ready to start paying to watch Web videos?

Jason Kilar is ready to find out. After a couple of months of tinkering, the former Hulu CEO is ready to bring his next startup to the public, which will give them a chance to pay $3 a month to watch videos they might be used to seeing for free.

Today Vessel, Kilar’s new service, is open to anyone, in two different flavors: A free version, which shows you clips you can find on YouTube and other video sites, and a paid service that gives subscribers a three-day “window” where they can see stuff before it shows up anywhere else.

Kilar has been explaining his strategy — in short, he thinks superfans will pay for early access to stuff from their favorite video creators — for a while. So there’s no need to go over it again (but if you want to you can see him explain it at length, at our Code/Media event last month, in the video at the bottom of this post).

We can tell you a bit more about who Kilar has signed onto the service, using some of the $75 million he’s raised as an inducement: He says that he’ll launch with 165 channels, and that 135 of them will have stuff that’s only available for paid subscribers.

That second group, which already included music videos from Universal Music and Warner Music, and clips from YouTube stars like Rhett & Link, now also includes stuff from Phil DeFranco, an early YouTube favorite, and GloZell Green, one of the three YouTubers who recently interviewed Barack Obama.

New entrants on the free side include NBCUniversal’s* “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon” and “Late Night with Seth Meyers,” which will provide clips the day after they air. Depending on who you listen to, those clips may or may not end up behind NBCU’s own pay wall (I don’t think the new ones will).

Again, paying for subscriptions is not new for some kinds of video, like the stuff that Netflix and Hulu Plus offer. But it is a new concept for lots of the stuff Vessel is offering, so this will be a closely watched experiment. Kilar is trying to give himself a head start by offering free, year-long subscriptions for people who sign up in the first three days.

* NBCUniversal is a minority investor in Revere Digital, Recode’s parent company.

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