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Former Hulu CEO Jason Kilar’s Secret Start-Up: Vessel, Hulu Meets YouTube

Vessel is a subscription video service

Former Hulu CEO Jason Kilar is building a subscription service for video — pretend YouTube and Hulu had a baby — according to several individuals with knowledge of the product. Kilar unveiled the product, named Vessel, in a blog post Tuesday.

Kilar said Vessel will focus on content, mainly next generation video, but gave no further details. It’s backed by Benchmark, Greylock and Bezos Expeditions. The last is Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’s personal investment arm.

Kilar has met with producers and distributors of short-form videos, according to our sources, some for YouTube and some for other platforms. Those who have seen it say the product is excellent, and many more are eager to see it. It has been buzzed about by everyone in the online video community, but Kilar has effectively kept the product under wraps.

Also read: YouTube Partner: We Make 5 Times More Money Off YouTube Than on It

Vessel would need exceptional videos to convince people to pay for short-form, and some close to Kilar stress that Vessel will be more diverse than that. Vessel is still in the process of lining up partners for its eventual launch.

Kilar first funded his new venture with money he took home from Hulu — about $40 million in-all — but he has since raised capital. Greylock was always a likely candidate given Kilar’s relationship with the fund, and the presence of former Hulu executive Elisa Schreiber at the company.

Kilar engendered a lot of respect in Silicon Valley for his stewardship of Hulu, where he built one of the country’s most popular video services with an army of engineers and TV shows from his corporate parents. As one person put it, “he walks on water.”

Kilar will take lessons learned from both Hulu and YouTube. The service will be freemium, employing advertising but also relying on subscriptions. It resembles Hulu and Hulu Plus in that way.  He has hired former employees of Hulu and Netflix, among other video sites.

The product is mobile-first, much to the delight of entrepreneurs and video companies. YouTube has struggled to monetize mobile views. Though companies generate 40 percent of their YouTube views on mobile, mobile accounts for a much smaller fraction of their revenue.

YouTube launched a pilot program for subscription channels, but little has been heard from them since their debut. One partner told TheWrap early on they were not happy with the revenue they saw from his channel.

Kilar worked hard to keep his next project under wraps. He tweeted about it once, posting a link to its website when it was called The Fremont Project.

When Kilar dispatched employees to an online video conference a couple weeks ago, they wore badges bearing nothing more than the word “start-up.” He has asked agents and executives to sign non-disclosure agreements, compelling typically candid individuals to shut their traps.

Even old friends of his acknowledged they do not know much.

Also read: Andy Forssell to Step in for Hulu CEO Jason Kilar

Below is the blog post announcing the company name and some details. Vessel promises there will be “much more to share prior to the end of the year.”

Hello from Vessel

We’ve been busy building a service whose mission is to delight consumers and content creators alike. Though we still have more work to do at Vessel, we want to share this brief update and reach out to the creator community. If you are a content creator, particularly a video content creator, we should talk!

We have assembled a unique and talented team, with strong experience building and innovating at places like Hulu, Netflix and Amazon. As a team, we are unusually passionate about the intersection of media and technology; we see an opportunity to improve media, particularly next generation video.

Our investors, led by Benchmark, Greylock Partners, and Bezos Expeditions (the personal investment company of Jeff Bezos) are world class and gifted builders. To have such an amazing group put their faith in us is energizing and humbling.

We’ll have much more to share prior to the end of the year. But for now, it’s back to work for us!

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