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You can now try streaming service Vessel free for a year

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Early access to web video from the longtime CEO of Hulu

Late last year, former Hulu CEO Jason Kilar showed off Vessel, a premium streaming service aimed at building new businesses for YouTube stars and other popular video creators. For $2.99 a month, Vessel gives subscribers early access to the videos that will eventually be posted to YouTube and elsewhere. Following an invitation-only public beta, Vessel is now available to everyone — and if you sign up in the next 72 hours, you can get it free for a year.

That’s right, a year. To entice creators to begin "windowing" their videos, Vessel needs to offer them large audiences. And those audiences may be skeptical of paying a monthly subscription to get an advance look at videos that will be available for free as little as three days later. That’s why Vessel is offering 12 months of free access to its premium service — and you won’t even have to provide your credit card number to get it. (There’s also an ad-supported version of Vessel that features non-exclusive videos; that will always be free.)

More than 130 top YouTube creators have joined Vessel

There are now more than 130 creators who are posting their videos to Vessel first, including Phil DeFranco’s show "The Vloggity," GloZell Green, and Tré Melvin. How tempted you are to subscribe to Vessel likely depends on whether you consider yourself a true fan of any of the individual creators. (The company says its creators reached a combined audience of 200 million people on free services.)

The early-access videos are complemented by clips from big conglomerates, which are part of the free version. NBC will offer clips from The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon and Late Night with Seth Meyers, and the NBA is providing game recaps. You’ll find plenty more videos from other partners including Machinima, Funny or Die, CollegeHumor, and VEVO.

"A clean, well-lighted place"

Vessel is available on the web and on iOS, with Android to follow in the coming months. And it’s a beautiful place to watch videos: the design replaces YouTube’s manic clutter with what Kilar likes to call a "clean, well-lighted place." Video thumbnails are large, and many of them are animated. Dozens of former Hulu employees left to come work at Vessel, and you can tell: the interfaces are similarly clean and intuitive.

It remains to be seen whether fans will pay extra for early access to their favorite web stars. And there’s a second looming question: if Vessel is successful, how will YouTube respond? If there turns out to be a billion-dollar business in serving what is essentially windowed YouTube content, you can assume Google will have something to say about it.

In the meantime, though, it’s worth checking out what Kilar and his team have built. In a year where the big social networks are all making big investments in video, Vessel may be the most interesting experiment of all.