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Amazon tries luring video makers with a YouTube-like deal

Jeff Bezos and company are using cash to lure video makers who fill YouTube with clips.

Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images
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.

Amazon has spent time and money taking on Netflix in the video wars. Now it's going after YouTube, too.

Sort of.

Jeff Bezos and company are using cash to lure video makers who fill YouTube with clips, offering them a share of the ad dollars or ad revenue their videos generate.

That doesn't mean Amazon is going to rival the world's biggest video site anytime soon, but it's a start. It also puts Amazon ahead — for now — of Facebook, which has made a big video push but has yet to reward most video makers with payouts.

Amazon is describing its "Video Direct" plan as a "self-service program for creators and storytellers." In short: Video makers can upload their stuff to Amazon, and then tell the company whether they want to sell their videos, rent them, make them available for free, with ads, or include them as part of Amazon's ad-free Prime Video offering.

An Amazon rep says the company is offering 15 cents for every hour of viewing a video creator's stuff generates via Prime Video in the U.S., and six cents an hour for views outside of the U.S. If video makers allow Amazon to show their stuff to any visitor, for free, Amazon will give them 55 percent of all ad revenue their clips generate. And if uploaders let Amazon sell their stuff via its subscription service, or via its rental store, Amazon will split that revenue 50-50.

That's roughly analogous to the offer YouTube makes to its video partners: 55 percent of all advertising revenue, or an unannounced split for videos that run in YouTube's ad-free YouTube Red subscription service.

More outlets for video makers' stuff — and, in particular, more outlets that pay money for their stuff — is a good thing. But it would mean more if Amazon looked like it was spending lots of time and effort on this.

For now, the list of partners that have signed on to Amazon's plan sounds pretty modest: It includes publishers like Mashable, Business Insider and the Guardian, but none of the big movie studios and TV networks, and none of the really big YouTube networks or individual stars, like Disney's Maker Studios, or PewDiePie.

Put it this way: An executive whose company is listed as a partner in Amazon's press release told me they were unaware they had finalized their deal with Amazon, because they weren't keeping close tabs on the discussions.

Still! If you squint, you can see Amazon building a roadmap that gets it into every part of the video business, if and when it decides to get there.

The company is already getting serious about the stuff it provides via its own subscription service, and it has begun selling add-on subscriptions from services like Starz and Showtime. It has also started the beginning of a free, ad supported service with shows from the likes of Conde Nast and the NFL, and it has also shown that it's interested in pursuing live sports rights.

Now it looks like Amazon is trying to round up small publishers and video stars, too. Imagine if it starts making a real push.

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