Nebula Blog

How the streaming sausage is made.


Over the last three and a half years, Nebula’s weakest link has been the streaming video pipeline itself. Nebula is a bootstrapped service that has grown so much faster than any of us had anticipated, so a lot of the early technical decisions were made in the interests of limited time and even more limited resources. The net effect for users has been occasionally (but not predictably) spotty video as we’ve relied on third-party services.

Last year we began working on our own solution, and we’re happy to report that it’s starting to roll out now. Introducing Starlight, our custom in-house transcoding and distribution pipeline.

Starting now, all new 1080p uploads will be handled by Starlight. 4K videos are still going through the old system for now while we work to improve transcoding times. Our goal is to have Starlight handling 4K content by the end of the year. Once that’s up and running, we’ll begin transcoding catalog videos to bring everything in-house. No ETA on that yet. The priority is very high to get this done, but even higher to get it right.

One of the more common support issues we get is complaints that videos get stuck buffering and never play. The reason for this, almost always, is that our current provider uses h.264 for 4K video. Starlight uses h.265 and VP9, resulting in smaller file sizes that won’t cause browsers to choke and die. Once we flip the switch on 4K later this year, that problem should be solved. In the short term, Starlight 1080p means higher-quality video — especially on mobile — with better insight and control of the system when problems arise.

Another common complaint is Cast support. Right now, videos cast in 480p. On a screen larger than your phone, this looks awful. (Honestly it doesn’t even look that great on your phone.) Starlight fixes this, allowing better video quality when casting to your TV. It also adds support for subtitles. An important win for accessibility.

There are other issues we don’t have clear answers for yet because our current provider provides no transparency in their process. (We’re not even allowed to know who the CDN provider is.) Even here, we’re very optimistic that running our own service will allow our team to better track down root causes and solve them for good. No more reaching out to third parties to help diagnose user problems.

For everyone who has run into problems, we appreciate your patience. The team has been hard at work behind the scenes and we’re excited to finally get to share progress.

So much of Nebula’s mission is about allowing the creators — the primary owners of the platform — better opportunity to control their own destiny. With Starlight, we capture a little more of that control on the technical and business sides as well.

Nebula First

Introducing Nebula First. Watch your favorite creator’s next video on Nebula before anyone else.

Starting today, you can look for a lightning bolt icon in thumbnail timeboxes to indicate that a video is on Nebula before it goes anywhere else. Anything that drops at least 24 hours ahead will get the bolt icon in the timebox, but in many cases Nebula First will mean a full video ahead; whenever a video from a participating creator drops on public platforms, the next video will already be available on Nebula.

We’ve always encouraged creators to post to Nebula early, but given the massive success of Jet Lag, we realized that the power of “click here to watch the next video now” was much greater than we’d expected. So we’re doubling down — we’re covering the production costs of an additional video for any creator who wants to participate.

Note: because creators get paid out by Nebula and our bundle partners based on signups and watch time, this will have some happy downstream consequences as well.

This means that the count of “only on Nebula” categories increases by one.

  • Nebula Originals — Fully-produced original content that lives exclusively on Nebula.

  • Nebula Plus — Bonus content and extended editions.

  • Nebula First — Videos that go to Nebula a full cycle before they’re visible anywhere else.

We’re working now to add rails for Plus and First content to help you more quickly identify the stuff you can’t see anywhere else. In short: white timeboxes are exclusive, black timeboxes are not (but are ad-free). The timebox updates are already live on the website and on iOS, and will be rolling out everywhere else this week.

Not every creator is on the same release schedule, so expect to see the rail populate throughout the next week or so, then with more frequent and regular updates over time as creators ramp up production.

And thanks again to the Jet Lag crew for giving us so much data to look at. #teamben


Watch Stuff

Since the launch of Nebula Classes last month, the team has been hard at work on the next big update for Nebula. This week, we’re thrilled to get to share that work with you. Introducing…

  • Quick Actions
  • Watch Status
  • Watch History
  • Watch Later
  • Share Video

Quick Actions

You’ll find context menus sprinkled throughout Nebula (“…” buttons on website and mobile apps, or long-press on TV and mobile apps). Opening a context menu offers quick actions you can take on any given video, channel, lesson, class, or podcast episode. Some of the actions available are:

  • Share
  • Add to Watch Later
  • Download
  • Mark as Watched
  • Clear Watch Progress
  • Follow/Unfollow Channel

You can expect the contents of these menus to expand as the functionality of Nebula does, so be sure to keep an eye out for additional actions in the future.

Watch Status

Video thumbnails indicate a video’s watch status with a small blue progress bar at the bottom. Know at a glance which videos you’ve already watched, and even which ones you’ve started, but haven’t yet finished. You can also mark a video as watched to set its progress to 100%, or clear the watch progress on a video.

Watch History

Whether you’re trying to find that really interesting video you watched a couple weeks back to share with a friend, or just want to finish a video you got interrupted watching earlier, you can find them all in Watch History. Watch History can be accessed on any platform through settings. To remove a video from Watch History, simply use the context menu to clear watch progress, and the next time you load the Watch History, that video will be gone. You might be thinking that settings is a weird place to put Watch History. And you’re right; it is. Consider this a temporary living arrangement while Watch History’s proper home is under renovation.

Watch Later

See a video (or ten) that looks interesting, but don’t have time to watch right now? Now, you can finally add videos to your Watch Later list. Videos that you add to Watch Later will be shown in a rail at the top of the Featured view. After you’ve watched a video, you can leave it in Watch Later for easy reference later or remove it using the context menu.

Share Video

Have you ever watched a really interesting Nebula video, and tried to share it with somebody only to realize there’s no way to share unless you’re on the website? Us too. All content can now easily be shared through native share sheets on both iOS and Android.

We know these features have been high on a lot of your wish lists for a while now, and they’ve been at the top of ours for a while too. We’re excited to finally be able to share them with you, and look forward to hearing any feedback you might have: [email protected]


Nebula Classes

I can’t believe I finally get to say this.

The next pillar of Nebula content, Nebula Classes, is live. Along with videos and podcasts — including our hundreds of Nebula Originals and Nebula Plus exclusive videos — you can now learn skills from your favorite creators in fully-produced classes available exclusively on Nebula.

There are many different ways to create courses online, but none of them quite fit the way we see the world. Most of them require creators to produce the classes ourselves and take on all of the capital risk, or place us alongside unvetted amateurs with no way to distinguish us as experts. Some platforms have pushed for cohort-led classes, which sounds like fun but requires a huge investment of the thing creators have the least of: time. In every case, it would mean spending our time and energy building value in someone else’s platform.

With Nebula, we already have a platform. We have half a million paying users. We have production budget for Original content. Why not do this ourselves and build a system for our needs, for our audiences, on our own terms?

Nebula Classes is the largest undertaking ever. Bigger than the original launch three years ago. Nearly a year of design, development, and production. Countless hours of human effort from across every team and dozens of creators. We’ve hired a fully-dedicated Classes production team, built out a production studio, and developed a process for working alongside creators.

It’s worth talking about that process.

Every Nebula class is written by the creator — who is then flown to NYC to shoot with our on-site Classes team — then handed off to our post-production team at Standard Studios for editing, motion graphics, audio cleanup, branding, and QA. We buy props, license clips, and generally look for ways to plus the class up. Every class is an investment in the creator, which includes paying the creator for their time, and giving them the same watch time revenue split as the rest of Nebula.

The first wave includes classes from Sam from Wendover, Thomas Frank, Sarah Feldman, Alex the LowSpecGamer, Aimee Nolte, and Philip from Volksgeist. We’ve also partnered with the team from Bright Trip to produce a series of Nebula-exclusive classes, starting with the ABCs of Architecture. We’re also introducing a guest-lecture style class called a Nebula Talk, starting with Matt from Extra Credits. New classes will be released every week, with classes in production right now from Rene Ritchie, Devin from LegalEagle, Georgia Dow, Noah from Polyphonic, Zach Highley, and a bunch I can’t talk about yet.

There are also interesting technical implications. Much of the engineering work for Classes required under-the-hood work that will result in the release of highly-requested Nebula features over the next month or so, like watch later, watch history, watch status, and sharing from our mobile apps.

This is a true leap forward for Nebula overall. We’re spending more money on exclusive and original content this year than the last two years combined, and our engineering and product teams are bigger than ever. This cost overhead needs to be accounted for in our pricing.

Creators selling their own online courses isn’t entirely novel, but the costs involved usually lead to very high pricing. By leaning into Nebula’s existing subscription model, instead of paying hundreds of dollars each for individual classes, the audience can access any of our classes whenever they want, and enjoy weekly additions of new classes, for a reasonable monthly (or annual) price.

As of today, most of our users have come in through the Curiosity Stream bundle. Those users can upgrade their accounts to include Classes access for only $5 more per month, or they can skip classes and keep their current access at no additional cost. For existing direct users, Classes access is immediate, and no price increase will be seen until January of 2023. For new folks coming in, the price goes from $5 per month ($50 per year) to $10 per month ($100 per year). For new users, visiting a creator URL to sign up will still get you a 20% ( $2 per month or $20 per year) discount. Nebula sans Classes will still be available for all new Curiosity Stream bundle users.

This is about accounting for the cost of all of this additional content, but also about setting us up for the future. For a long time we assumed that Classes would be a new tier of Nebula service. In the end, that felt wrong to us — Nebula should just be Nebula, and setting precedent of extra costs for new content categories painted a picture of a nickel-and-dime future that didn’t feel great to us. We don’t want to tie our destiny to a Nebula Pro account upsell path. Prices may change over time, but this means that Nebula is Nebula.

Nebula is all about giving creators the best home for everything they make. With Classes, one more boundary has been removed, and our creators have a whole new opportunity to inform and inspire. I’m super proud of the team — staff and creator alike — for all of the work they’ve put in to make this possible, and I can’t wait for the world to see all of the amazing stuff we’ve been working on.


Nebula RSS Feeds

RSS fans rejoice: Nebula now has official RSS feeds for videos. If you’re already familiar with RSS, you probably already recognize the value in this. Subscribing to feeds will allow you to be notified of things like new videos from your favorite creators, new Nebula Originals, and when a new creator joins Nebula. You can even subscribe to feeds to know when new Nebula Plus videos are available. We currently have the following feeds available:

Latest Videos:

Nebula Originals:

New Channels:

Latest Videos for a Channel:{channel_slug}.rss

Latest Videos in a Category:{category}.rss

Latest Plus Videos:

Plus Videos for a Channel:{channel_slug}.rss?plus=true

Plus Videos in a Category:{category}.rss?plus=true

Anywhere you see curly braces (ex: {channel_slug}), it means that part of the URL can be replaced with a number of different values. For example, if you want to know when a new video is posted to the history category, you would subscribe to We’ll include a list of category feeds at the end of this post, but know that this list may become incomplete as new categories are added in the future. For channels, the best way to find the channel slug is to navigate to the channel on web, and look at the final part of the URL. Lastly, as you may have already deduced from the feeds above, ?plus=true is an optional URL parameter that you can add to any video feed to get only Nebula Plus content from that feed.

We’d love to have a feed for My Library, but it presents unique technical challenges that we’re not ready to tackle quite yet. If you experience any issues, or have ideas for other feeds you’d like to see, please let us know at [email protected].

Category Feeds



Film & TV:




Nebula Originals:

Science & Engineering: