$3 a month for advance access to web shows

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A new online video service called Vessel aims to make web video shows worth paying for.

The founding CEO of Hulu, Jason Kilar, is about to release a new online video service that aims to make web video shows worth paying for.

His company is called Vessel, and its pitch is simple: For three bucks a month, subscribers can gain early access to web video series from popular creators.

"Watch your favorites here first" is one of the tag lines of the business.

Kilar and his investors -- including Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos -- are betting that the subscription revenue model of television can be extended to the Internet, where videos are supported almost entirely by advertising revenue.

YouTube and a number of other online video hubs have experimented with subscription options with little success. Kilar said Vessel is different because it adopts a "windowing" approach.

The $2.99 monthly fee will provide access to all of Vessel's exclusive content -- the videos that won't be available anywhere else. "The minimum 'early access period' is three days," Kilar said.

After that period ends, the videos will be available on a free version of Vessel, and their creators will be allowed to post the videos elsewhere, on YouTube and other sites.

The web shows will always have ads attached -- the difference is that Vessel adds a subscription component.

Related: New way to watch CBS shows - for $6 a month

Vessel has begun to sign big YouTube stars, like Ingrid Nilsen, and some boldface names from television, like Alec Baldwin. (He will have a show called "Alec Baldwin's Love Ride.")

But the startup has been in stealth mode. On Wednesday it officially launches for video creators, ahead of an early 2015 launch for the general public.

In an interview in advance of Wednesday's announcement, Kilar said Vessel's subscription revenues will help video creators "invest in ever-more-ambitious content," thereby improving the quality of web video over time.

He called this the "critical, missing piece" for the burgeoning Internet video industry.

Kilar is well-known in media circles for leading the creation of Hulu, the online video hub co-owned by the parent companies of NBC, ABC and Fox. Hulu specializes in television episodes and movies; Vessel is about short-form video.

"Our focus is on anything that's not film or TV," he said.

The Golden Age of binge TV watching?
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Most of the web shows expected to appear on Vessel will be under 10 minutes long, though "we're not going to turn someone away with a series that's 15 minutes along," Kilar said.

While saying "we recognize that we will play one part among many," Kilar predicted that the entire industry of made-for-the-web video will eventually "be bigger than what you see in television today."

"This is where people think I'm insane," he said with a laugh, "but I very much believe it."

"The thing that a lot of people don't appreciate," he added, "is how early it is, in terms of the evolution of video on the Internet."


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