Online video is booming. But that doesn’t mean all industry initiatives will succeed. Two examples in just the past two days illustrate the point. Yesterday Verizon announced it was acquiring Vessel for an undisclosed amount in what appears to be a straightforward asset purchase and talent acquisition. And on Tuesday, Google Fiber announced that it was stopping all expansion into new markets. Both companies’ leaders, Jason Kilar at Vessel and Craig Barratt at Google Access, will be departing their positions.
While the two companies operate in distinct segments of the market - Vessel in content and Google Fiber in infrastructure - both were bets on new business models and consumer demand that do not seem to have panned out.
Another day, another new SVOD service. Yesterday, Fullscreen said that April 26th would be the launch date for its “fullscreen” $4.99/month ad-free SVOD service which had been teased last fall. Fullscreen is targeting 13-30 year-olds with 800+ hours of content that will include films plus scripted and unscripted online originals and exclusives from YouTube stars like Grace Helbig, Shane Dawson, Hannah Hart and Jack & Dean.
Like Vessel and YouTube Red, two other SVOD services based on exclusive or windowed YouTube creator content, fullscreen is another test case for millennials’ willingness-to-pay for content that they’re long accustomed to getting for free (putting aside the differentiators of earlier access and exclusivity).
Vessel announced a new financing this morning, which sources close to the company pegged at $57.5 million. The round was led by Institutional Venture Partners (IVP), which has also invested in Netflix, Twitter, Snapchat and other consumer-facing media companies. Prior investors Benchmark, Greylock Partners and Bezos Expeditions also participated. Total funding for Vessel now stands at approximately $134.5 million.
I'm pleased to present the 266th edition of the VideoNuze podcast with my weekly partner Colin Dixon of nScreenMedia.
Colin starts this week's podcast by sharing his positive reactions to Vessel, the startup from former Hulu CEO Jason Kilar, which went live this week. Colin likes the mobile app a lot and thinks Vessel's promotion of a free year of service is a smart approach. In particular, Colin is bullish on Vessel's non-intrusive ad model.
However, Colin is less certain about Vessel's odds of success, noting that YouTube's response is a major wildcard. I agree and observe that while Vessel is very impressive, it's also a big test case for users' willingness-to-pay for first window access to content. There's a lot to like about Vessel, and ample reason to believe millennials will like the model, but only time will tell.
Speaking of YouTube, it's becoming increasingly apparent that Facebook is poised to become YouTube's main competitor in the long-run. As I wrote yesterday, this week at Facebook's F8 developer conference, the company unveiled key updates, geared especially for premium publishers, that will bring a lot more high-quality content onto the platform. Colin and I dig into each of these and also discuss a big remaining missing piece - pre-roll ads against videos posted on Facebook.
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Vessel has launched an invite-only beta of its service, on desktops and iOS devices. I was provided access to the beta and I'm excited to share some initial reactions. As a reminder, Vessel was started by former Hulu CEO Jason Kilar and CTO Richard Tom. Vessel's core value proposition is providing exclusive, early access to online video content to super-fans, for a $2.99/month fee. A light ad load is included.
Vessel is a fascinating test of viewers' willingness-to-pay for early access to online video content that's otherwise free. This so-called "first window" represents a completely new business model that could dramatically alter the online video landscape. For content creators, the lure of higher revenue per video view (given Vessel's more attractive ad splits and subscription revenue) seems irresistible to try. And for super-fans, Vessel's $2.99/month fee seems pretty compelling to get early access.
Vessel has pulled back the curtain on its long-rumored business model this morning, which essentially boils down to being a huge willingness-to-pay test case. The fundamental question: will online video viewers pay $2.99/month for Vessel's service, which includes a "modest amount of advertising," to gain early access to select online videos that will otherwise be available for free within 3 days or more?
If the answer is yes, there is no doubt we'll see an explosion of paid early access models from all kinds of video content providers. If the answer is no, then Vessel would have to revert to an ad-supported only business model, which would leave it with a far less interesting value proposition to content creators.
The WSJ is reporting today that YouTube is now offering some of its most popular video creators bonuses in exchange for signing exclusive multiyear deals. The new offers are on top of previously reported deals to underwrite programming for the same creators. All of this is happening primarily in response to pitches ex-Hulu CEO Jason Kilar is making to the same YouTube creators, to provide his new company Vessel with an exclusive 3-day window for these creators' new videos.
The YouTube talent war is raging because the viewing behaviors of millennials - the primary audience for this type of programming - is up for grabs. The most compelling evidence of this came in last week's Nielsen Q3 '14 Total Audience report. Based on my calculations, live TV viewing by 18-24 year-olds (the core millennial segment) dropped by nearly 20% in Q3 '14 vs. Q3 '13. The reduction represented over 4 hours per week of viewing time, thereby dropping live TV viewing to approximately 17 hours per week, easily the lowest of any age group Nielsen measures.
I'm pleased to present the 237th edition of the VideoNuze podcast with my weekly partner Colin Dixon of nScreenMedia.
This week we dive deep into the question of whether YouTube is indomitable or vulnerable to new competitors. Colin observes that the 45% revenue split YouTube keeps has opened the door for everyone from Vessel (former Hulu CEO Jason Kilar's startup) to Yahoo to others to approach YouTube stars about better deal terms. Major MCNs like Maker Studios (acquired by Disney) and Fullscreen (rumored to be acquired by Otter Media) are expanding beyond YouTube with their own properties.
However, I don't see much changing with the revenue split, except maybe the largest players getting improved terms. For both established and startup content providers, YouTube offers unparalleled audience reach, publishing tools and monetization. I offer a few examples as proof of YouTube's power: PewDiePie (which now has an astounding 29 million subscribers), Vice News (a pure YouTube news channel now able to take over the NYTimes.com's masthead ad) and Sorted Food (a British startup that has gained 870K+ subscribers on YouTube and now tops its Food category).
For all of these content providers and tons of others, YouTube provides an open, flexible distribution platform unlike anything before it in the media business. Ad splits will continue to be a bone of contention, but YouTube is poised to only get stronger going forward.
(Related, Colin has a complimentary new white paper on how to win and retain OTT customers available here.)
Listen in to learn more!