Vessel, the video subscription service led by former Hulu CEO Jason Kilar and former Hulu CTO Richard Tom, is expanding in a new direction with the launch of a feature called “Threads,” designed to encourage more social interaction between video creators and viewers. The idea, the company explains, is to allow creators to interact with fans by asking them questions, encourage discussions on a given topic, or pose challenges.
By focusing on the development of an online community, Vessel is moving beyond its original mission, which was primarily about giving fans early access to videos from their favorite creators as a subscription service. Video publishers were asked to release their videos first on Vessel – usually 72 hours ahead of YouTube – and in return, they were promised the ability to make more money than on free, ad-supported sites.
Launched nearly a year ago, Vessel’s content today includes videos across a variety of topics, including gaming, music, sports, beauty, lifestyle, comedy, fashion, science, tech, design and more. But the larger idea – prompted by the founders’ experience with Hulu – has been about bringing the same kind of windowing model that exists with traditional media to online video. While most content on Vessel is free, subscribers can pay $2.99 per month for early access to videos.
However, YouTube recently presented a challenge to Vessel’s business model: it just launched a subscription service of its own, called YouTube Red. In addition to several premium features such as offline access, YouTube Red also provides a way to watch videos ad-free. That makes a subscription to Vessel look less appealing, perhaps.
Given that Vessel already includes ads in addition to its subscription pricing, the primary draw for Vessel, then, would have been only users’ ability to see videos first before they hit YouTube. Other things like the app’s curated experience or its mobile-first design were just extra niceties.
In other words, with YouTube now offering a subscription service of its own, Vessel needed something that would make it more of a draw for fans.
The idea for “Threads” makes sense as a natural build-out of a community which is all about serving creators’ most devoted fans. After all, YouTube had distanced itself from the concept of fans’ replying to creators via video when it turned off video responses back in 2013. The company claimed the feature was unused in terms of clicks, but the backlash from fans indicated there was interest in creating these replies, even if they weren’t heavily viewed. (Fans still regularly respond to videos on YouTube today, we should note, but there’s no longer a proper video reply structure built into the site or its API.)
Vessel’s video replies could potentially pull both creators’ and fans’ time and energy away from YouTube – or at least, that’s the hope.
To take advantage of the new feature, Vessel says that fans can use the Vessel app on either iOS or Android to respond with their own videos. The feature is currently enabled for a handful of creators’ videos, but more will be added as Threads rolls out. It’s also available on the free tier, which could attract a larger audience to Vessel that may convert to subscribers in the future.