When it comes to online video, you can’t find real success without creating content that attracts an engaged community - and you can't build that community without providing great content. Right now, we're seeing established platforms like YouTube and Vevo are making a grab at expanding the breadth and quality of their content, while sites like Vessel are making more investments in their community.

Video can be just about entertainment, but it is critical with the growing social nature of video that it also contains an element of conversation. When a creator or brand can rally a community around a video, they can amplify the reach of the video far more than the video could have done on its own.

The Value of Community in Online Video

Video has forever been transformed by our ability to not just consume and enjoy the content, but by our ability to use it as a tool for discussion and a way to interact with the creators of it. Video has truly entered an era of social video. Perhaps this is why it came as a bit of a surprise and shock to many when YouTube discontinued their video response feature over two years ago. But this is also why I’m equally as shocked to see it come back to online video, not from YouTube, but from competitor Vessel. Vessel has done their part in enticing some of the better content creators to join their site, but they are now turning an eye towards building a community as well.

If you have yet to give Vessel a look, they have a platform very similar to YouTube and based heavily on creators who got their start on YouTube. I’ve been testing it out for the last 9 months and what really makes it unique (at least up until YouTube Red came around) is the fact that you can pay a small monthly subscription in exchange for ads to be reduced to 5 seconds. Content is often released on Vessel exclusively for the first few days or weeks before it hits YouTube and the wider internet. It is also appealing to creators due to the higher reported CPMs.

I’ll be the first to say that Vessel’s site is beautiful and lends to a great viewing experience. But the traffic doesn’t appear to match other video platforms just yet. Take for example a recent Rhett and Link Good Mythical Morning video which appears on both YouTube and Vessel. It has received over 1.2 million views on YouTube with over 50k thumbs up and over 11k comments. On Vessel, the same video has only 91 likes and 42 comments. The biggest thing missing? The viewers who choose to use YouTube as their primary destination, in part for the community that thrives on the site. That’s why I find Vessel’s launch of “Threads”, their version of video responses, to be so significant. According to their blog, Vessel believes that “Threads” will “offer these passionate communities a home to have conversations about the videos and topics they love”.

Given the numbers between Vessel and YouTube right now, I think it’s safe to say Vessel is struggling to make a real competition with the video giant. But if it could entice a core community of viewers to make Vessel their home base for video operations, they could significantly change their position. I was one of those YouTubers who was upset at the loss of video responses. My own video responses resulted in some lasting friendships that I still value today. Who knows where Shaycarl would be today were it not for his video response to Philip Defranco.

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A Shift Away from Ads and Towards Subscriptions

All of that said, I will be very surprised if the addition of video responses makes a large impact for Vessel, but it’s a step in the right direction for them. It shows that they recognize the importance of community and discussion to the success of online video. Meanwhile YouTube and their shift with YouTube Red is focusing on the benefit of a subscription model and providing more premium content.

According to the LA Times, YouTube is in "talks with television networks and Hollywood studios to purchase streaming rights to TV shows, movies and other content that can help bolster its new subscription service”. I find it a bit interesting that YouTube is continuing to go after more premium content, when the site is already loading over 500 hours of content every minute. Although I’ll be the first to admit my love for YouTube Red, it has less to do with the premium content and more to do with the way in which it values creators and eliminates ads from the site. It’s my belief that the real opportunity for YouTube is in discovering more of the quality content that already exists on the site and then curating and highlighting those talented creators.

Part of the premium content that YouTube Red is already leveraging is the music catalog, which is a “free” benefit of having YouTube Red. Subscribers also get access to the full catalog of Google Play Music. YouTube’s music catalog includes videos from their partnership with Vevo. They are certainly making this content go the extra mile for them and directly competing with services like Spotify. Although Spotify is a well-established app for music, the extra benefits of YouTube Red make it difficult to justify Spotify at the same $9.99 price point.

Apparently Vevo wants to get in on this action as well. According to Ad Age, Vevo has acquired the Showyou video site, suggesting that Vevo also plans to enter into competition with YouTube Red and Spotify. Right now, Vevo and YouTube rely on each other to generate traffic, although I would say Vevo has a much higher reliance on YouTube. This move could help them strengthen their position.

There Has to Be a Balance of Content vs Community

The takeaway for me from these recent headlines is that you have to be well aware of where you stand. You truly do need a good balance of content and community. While Vessel focused heavily on acquiring content this past year, their community is clearly lacking and the addition of “Threads” should help in that regard.

On the other side, YouTube and Vevo seem satisfied with their viewership and are looking for ways to make their content more robust and appealing. I challenge you to take your own inventory of where you stand as a brand or creator, with a look back at the past year. If you haven’t grown your audience like you want, it may be the right time to change where you are making your investments, whether that be in the quality of your content or the growth of your audience.