Will People Pay Vessel $3/Month For More Professional YouTube Videos?

Vessel_ProductShot_WallCombo_PCYouTube’s playlists are full of amateur and mostly amateurish video clips, which is fine because almost everything on YouTube is free. But there are also plenty of high-quality content producers posting videos on YouTube, some of whom are being paid handsomely for it. While such clips may add an air of professionalism to YouTube, will consumers be willing to pay $2.99/month for a service that curates the best of the web?

That’s the idea behind streaming startup Vessel, which launched its invite-only Beta test today. The creators of the site, including founding Hulu CEO Jason Kilar, believe there is a market for early access to premium online video content.

The idea is that Vessel wouldn’t just be a place where you don’t need to sift through countless poorly lit rants shot with vertically held smartphones before finding something more professional, but that users would get exclusive access to some of these clips at least a few days before they are posted anywhere else.

GigaOm explains that it’s actually up to the content producer how long their Vessel content remains behind the paywall. That means that some things will remain exclusive to Vessel but some content — like music videos provided by Vevo — will be free everywhere online.

That ratio of exclusive to non-exclusive content will likely be a huge factor in determining the value of Vessel to subscribers. If someone pays the $2.99/month and finds they can readily find a large portion of this content elsewhere for free, it might not be worth the monthly fee.

Speaking to BusinessWeek, Kilar likens Vessel to premium TV services, pointing out that hundreds of millions of people are willing to ante up for access to that content.

“I’m not suggesting we will see those same numbers,” he admits, “but we view a future where absolutely huge numbers of people all over the planet subscribe to get great content.”

But does the “HBO for YouTube” analogy hold up?

One difference is that HBO and other premium TV offerings have virtually total control over their original content. Game of Thrones fans pay because they can’t (legally) see the show elsewhere. Even after the show has been aired, HBO still controls who sees it and which services offer streaming access. It’s not like there’s a three day, or even three month, waiting period before GoT is suddenly airing for free on broadcast networks.

And even though subscribers pay for access to Vessel, they will still have to sit through ads before watching their videos. But even when HBO subscribers are just watching 15-year-old movies because there’s nothing else on, they at least know they won’t have to deal with commercial breaks.

Perhaps a better analogy would be to Kilar’s old stomping grounds at Hulu Plus, which gives paying subscribers access to not only archived TV content but recently aired network programming days before it’s been made available on those networks’ websites. That early access element is obviously a draw for subscribers, but so is the extensive library of shows and movies — including hundreds of Criterion Collection rarities that stream without commercials.

But again, the networks that own Hulu also have a lot of control over how their shows are seen online. You won’t be seeing full (again, legal) episodes of Gotham on YouTube a few days after they run on Hulu Plus.

One other problem associated with exclusivity is the social aspect of online videos. For many, part of the enjoyment of YouTube clips is not just that they can watch these shows on their phones, tablets, and computers, but that they can immediately share and embed these videos with anyone.

And few people love to share more than early adopters of online content who enjoy being among the first to let the world know what people should be watching. Sure, they’ll be able to watch an incredibly interesting video days before others, but will they be able to then share that experience with others who don’t pay?

Since that apparent lack of share-ability likely means fewer views — at least while behind the paywall — Vessel is reportedly sharing both ad revenue and subscription revenue with content producers.

YouTube has made a few efforts toward creating subscription tiers and services, most recently launching Music Key, a test of a $7.99/month service that brings ad-free musical content to subscribers. But so far none of these attempts to directly charge consumers for content has resulted in some sort of industry shift away from the ad-sponsored free-for-all of the last decade.

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