Jason Kilar’s Vessel went live on Tuesday, and with a free year of usage bundled in there’s just no reason not to give it try. However, can it attract the stars and audience quickly enough to survive?
I tried Vessel on the Chrome browser with a Windows 8.1 PC, and on an iPad II with the latest version of iOS. Of the two, the iOS experience is far superior to the PC. On the iPad, navigation felt natural and flowed easily. Swiping left and right moves between my feed, new releases and popular; swiping up and down allow the user to examine the list of videos in each category. The PC browser experience looks like the tablet, but without the ability to swipe (this would conflict with how Chrome interprets left and right swiping.) This means a user is constantly returning to the menu to do things a simple swipe accomplishes on the tablet. Scrolling in the browser was no fun either.
I confirmed that Vessel has content in the exclusive 72 hour window. Vessel told me that a new video was available from SeaNanners, a YouTube gaming star with over 5.1M subscribers. The new video was called Bad Boys and, after watching it, I confirmed that it was not available on SeaNanners YouTube channel. As well, recent videos from his YouTube channel, like Maintenance Man and Star Butts, were also available on his Vessel channel.
It’s difficult to judge exactly how many of the MCN stars are available on Vessel. Some of the biggest are absent; like PewDiePie and Michelle Phan. Others are present, like Smosh and Marcus Butler.
5 second pre-roll ads play before every video. I saw ads from McDonalds, Doritos and Ruffles while watching content on SeaNanners channel. This led me to believe initially that the ads were quite well targeted to the content. This was reinforced when I switched to the Travel channel, where I saw ads for Suave Hair Care, Dove Soap, and Doritos. However, after some more viewing I began to doubt that the ads were targeted at all, as the McDonalds and Ruffles ads showed up as pre-rolls for videos on the Travel channel. The ad length, at least for me, was perfect. I found having to watch them no trouble at all.
One feature I really like is the insertion of ads while scrolling through the list of recommended videos. These “scroll bumpers” sometimes were static ads, with calls to action; sometimes they were videos. Whatever flavor they were, I could scroll right passed them or pause to check them out. However, these ads were definitely not targeted, either to me or the particular channel I was viewing. On SeaNanner’s channel I saw ads for the Jaguar XJ (a beautiful 360 view inside the car,) the Chevy Colorado and an ad for Blake Shelton’s new video on his Vessel channel.
There were some problems. The app on my iPad II crashed a couple of times. Also, the PC and tablet experiences aren’t completely synchronized. The channels I have subscribed to are duplicated in both places, and the recommended viewing list is the same everywhere as well. However, a video I had already watched on the iPad was queued up again for me to watch when I logged in through the browser.
My experience with SeaNanners illustrates that Vessel is seeking to be much more than just a place to watch new videos. Mr. Kilar wants to make it your home for watching favorite MCN and music stars. And that will bring him squarely up against YouTube. Right now, Vessel’s interface is much better than YouTube, at least on iOS. The ad balance and length seems about right too, but will people actually subscribe after their free year of usage? And what if YouTube duplicates the business model, as it so easily could?
At least while Vessel is giving away a year’s membership we can set those questions aside, and replace it with just one. Will all the YouTube stars and eyeballs come that it needs to survive?
Why it matters
Vessel has done a good job attracting some of the top YouTube talent for its initial release, though superstars like PewDiePie, Michelle Phan and Smosh Brothers are absent.
The interface, ad load and features set make for a great experience on iOS, though the PC leaves a lot to be desired.
Offering people a year’s free membership is a smart move, allowing the company to focus entirely on building a large user base.