Amazon wants to become the next YouTube with Video Direct

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Amazon’s Video Instant library isn’t exactly bereft of blockbusters — between Emmy-winning original series like Transparent and content deals with Fox, HBO, and others, the ever-expanding collection’s an impressively well-rounded one. If there’s one category of content the streaming service has so far lacked, though, it’s user-created video — you won’t find any short films from micro-budget filmmakers, makeup tutorials from young fashion models, or weekly attempts at virility from aspiring internet celebrities on Instant Video.

But if Amazon has its way, that’s primed to change: On Tuesday, the online retailer announced Video Direct, a new revenue-sharing program for video creators that’ll see paid and ad-supported content made available to Amazon’s tens of millions of customers.

“There are more options for distribution than ever before and with Amazon Video Direct, for the first time, there’s a self-service option for video providers to get their content into a premium streaming subscription service,” said Amazon Video Vice President Jim Freeman in a press release. “We’re excited to make it even easier for content creators to find an audience, and for that audience to find great content.”

It’s a bit more complicated than that, though. Video Direct’s compensation models are based on the narrowness of reach rather than specific metrics like, say, number of views. Partners who want their content in front of as many Amazon customer eyeballs as possible — i.e., both subscribers and non-subscribers to the retailer’s premium Prime service — are required either to offer their videos for digital rental or purchase, or make them freely available with ads. Alternatively, partners can opt to wall their creations behind Amazon’s subscription-based Prime Video service, or sell them as add-on packages as a part of Amazon’s Streaming Partners Program.

None of this comes free. Amazon Video Direct rentals, purchases, and subscriptions carry a 50-50 revenue split with Amazon, while the online retailer collects a 55-percent cut of revenue from ad-supported content (the same as YouTube). Prime Video content, meanwhile, pays on a per-hour basis: creators earn 15-percent royalties per hour streamed in the U.S. and six cents in other countries, up to a maximum of $75,000.

Video Direct’s participants aren’t just small fry. Day-one content providers include such known names as Conde Nast Entertainment, Mashable, Business Insider, the Guardian, HowStuffWorks, Samuel Goldwyn Films, Mattel, Kin Community, Jash, Machinma, Baby Einstein, CJ Entertainment America, Xive TV, Synergetic Distribution, Kino Nation, Pro Guitar Lessons, and Journeyman Pictures.

The appeal for mid-sized outfits, it would seem, is the flexibility afforded by Amazon’s well-established ecosystem. “With Amazon Video Direct, we have the control to create the unique distribution strategies that reflect the changing ways in which our audiences discover our films,” said Samuel Goldwyn Films president Peter Goldwyn. Case in point: Amazon Video’s available on mobile iOS and Android devices, plus game consoles, select smart TVs, and Amazon’s own Fire TV devices.

But Amazon’s eyeing YouTube starts and small-time uploaders, too. To get the ball rolling on that front, Amazon is debuting “AVD Stars,” a $1 million accelerator fund that the retailer will award monthly to Video Direct’s top-performing partners each month. Eligible winners — providers who begin uploading content starting June 1 and consistently crack Amazon’s top 100 Video Direct titles in Prime Video — will earn bonuses in addition to any income they’ve already earned. Already, it’s helped to haul in StyleHaul, a YouTube-based fashion video network that’ll be among Video Direct’s launch partners. “We believe Amazon Prime members will enjoy the unique female voices in our content and be inspired by the fashion and beauty that our brand embodies,” said Chief Content Officer Mia Goldwyn.

The launch of Video Direct comes inconspicuously on the heels of Amazon’s new, cheaper, a la cart streaming deal — the retailer now offers Prime Video, previously only available to Amazon Prime subscribers ($99 per year), for $8.99 per month. And it follows YouTube’s introduction of Red, a $10-per-month service that includes ad-free video viewing and access to exclusive content, among other benefits.

Video Direct goes live today. Interested publishers based in the U.S., the U.K., Germany, Austria, and Japan can sign up at videodirect.amazon.com, with more territories to come in the future.

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