Test Drive: Vessel

Vessel beta screenshot

We reported on the plans for new video service Vessel back in December, and since then have gotten access to its beta. The service uses a business model of an inexpensive monthly subscription ($2.99) that promises advanced access to content. Many have positioned this video service as a direct rival to YouTube, since artists and other video creators might appreciate a paid platform more than a free video playground. After spending some time investigating what the platform has to offer, we’re excited about where Vessel might go, but it has a long road before it will be a true rival of YouTube.

Starting with the basics: the service is lovely to use. It’s highly visual, with big thumbnail images to entice you into watching the videos. The layout and interface are not always the most intuitive – for instance, the search field is hidden in a dropdown menu – but it’s a far sight prettier than YouTube. There are a few ads, either in the main feed and before videos, but they’re very brief and unobtrusive.

Just like with other subscription services, listeners can follow general topics and specific creators’ channels. Thanks to a partnership with Vevo, there’s a solid amount of musicians and music videos available. A large number of performers have portions of their video catalogs available through Vevo, but the goal of offering paid windowing access doesn’t seem to be in full swing yet. For instance, Taylor Swift’s latest music video is not on the platform, but it is on her Vevo channel on YouTube. There’s also nothing from Jack White’s sophomore album.

Vessel beta screenshot 2

There don’t appear to be many additional channels for more than specific artists. We found Jay-Z’s Life+Times channel, which has a broader look at culture, with an emphasis on music and going behind-the-scenes with artists. It’s a great example of the type of multi-channel network that could thrive on a platform like Vessel: high production quality, great exclusive videos, and lots of star power. However, it was one of the only such channels we found for music. That’s likely due to the newness of the platform, and we’re pleased to see so much interest from some of the music industry’s top performers.

Again, this is still Vessel’s beta stage. The approach artists take to Vessel will likely change over time. Not only will the network add more creators to its stable, but more of the business leaders may also be getting involved. For instance, Universal Music Group formally signed with Vessel today. “Jason and his team recognize the substantial value of the music videos created by our world class roster of artists and have built a platform that promises fans a first-rate experience while providing artists and labels new ways to increase the monetization of their creative work,” Chairman and CEO Lucian Grainge said of the deal.

Music is just one of Vessel’s focuses, and it actually seems to take a backseat to the breadth of channels dedicated to vloggers, comedy, and more narrative short-form video. For a network that promises exclusives, having a large roster of creators and topics will be important for Vessel’s success, and it does appear to have started out strong on that front. We’re excited to see what other partnerships and exclusives Vessel can attract. Windowing seems to have a growing number of supporters within the industry; the trick will be convincing fans and listeners that the exclusives are worth paying for.

Anna Washenko