Joost – what went wrong?

6 04 2008

It was heralded as re-inventing the TV paradigm or the end of TV as we know it, yet barely a year after its public launch, online video service Joost appears to be lurching from one crisis into another. The service is planning a major retrenchment, reports the UK’s Sunday Times newspaper, “after failing to attract enough users and top-flight broadcasting rights.”

Joost was the one service guaranteed to get the digerati foaming at the mouth, with the kind of gushing enthusiasm normally reserved for the latest Apple gizmo. The company struck gold early in its history by opportunistically inking a content deal with Viacom – some speculated it was less about Viacom making a serious push into the brave new world of web video and more one-in-the-eye at YouTube, which it is currently suing for alleged copyright infringement.

The online video market has evolved considerably during the last year – most if not all of the big broadcast networks have launched or beefed up their offers: NBC Universal and NewsCorp. have bowed their “YouTube-killer” portal Hulu; the BBC iPlayer eventually made its debut and ‘Project Kangaroo’, the JV between the BBC, ITV and Channel 4 looks set to create a new online video powerhouse later this year.

Meanwhile Joost, requiring users to download and install a desktop application, populated with pedestrian content, is in danger of looking as cutting edge as a parent at a school disco. Moreover, at a time when play now Flash streaming has become the de facto user experience, Joost feels clunky by comparison. True, Apple’s iTunes also requires users to install a desktop app, but it does boast some heavyweights as content partners.

It’s a cruel twist of irony that the ‘revolutionary’ service which looked set to shake up the TV paradigm is in danger of looking so web 1.0 at a time when video is so seamlessly being woven into the fabric of the rest of the web. Joost is retrenching from global markets to focus on the U.S., says The Sunday Times – something it probably should’ve done in the first place.

Moral of the tale #1 is that striking gold very seldom happens more than once in succession – something the entertainent industry understands well. Joost’s founders Niklas Zennström and Janus Friis may have turned the telecoms industry upside down with Skype, but thus far Joost has failed to establish itself as anything more than an over-hyped vanity business.

Moral of the tale #2 is under-estimate the deeply-entrenched business models of media and entertainment incumbents at your peril.

The future for Joost? Renewed focus on the U.S. will likely help the service to leverage its strengths and build a significant niche market. Eventually its founders will tire of it and likely offload it to a media heavyweight. beyondnessofthings predicts Viacom will buy it at fire auction rates.

Update: Joost has rebutted yesterday’s story in The Times, telling paidContents Rafat Ali that it’s not planning any major layoffs, though it is doing a “re-alignment” (not to be interepreted as a sole focus on the U.S. market). beyondnessofthings accepts that Joost may not be refocusing its activity to the extent outlined in the Sunday Times report, but stands by the comments stated above.

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500 streamed TV channels — for free

23 08 2007

FreeTube joins the ranks of a plethora of browser-based and downloadable client services which now offer access to streamed versions of TV channels via the web.

A couple of innovative features are What Are You Watching? which provides a real-time snapshot of what users are viewing, based on geographical location, plus widgets which allow users to embed their favourite TV channels in their own site. TV program listings are to be added soon too.





WiTV: the new Joost-alike kid on the block

20 08 2007

When Joost emerged from its Venice Project chrysalis late last year, commentators said it would re-invent the TV landscape.  Then came Babelgum and Veoh, products which have adopted broadly similar approaches: full-screen, televisual user interfaces paired with community features, such as the ability to customise channels and rate content.

Now it seems these three are to be joined by yet another newcomer, WiTV, conceived by the people behind the Streamcast Player.

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Details of the new service remain sketchy, beyond a currently small amount of blog chatter, but you can bet you’ll be hearing a whole lot more about this over the coming months. WebTVWire was first to splash news of WiTV back in June, following up yesterday with these screen shots. Hopefully the company will work out how to spell trailer before it rolls out to the public 🙂

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Differentiating it from the rest of the pack, WiTV is browser-integrated, so will work across all operating systems from word go — it’s only in recent months that Joost has released a Mac-compatible version, while the BBC’s iPlayer continues to vex Mac owners and open sourcers by only offering a Windows XP version in its initial release.

It’s stated that the service is compatible with Apple TV and Windows Media Center, bridging the all-important ‘last 20 ft’ PC / TV divide. If the developer’s claims stack up, the service also works with mobile devices and games consoles.

In these just-released screen shots, its backers have clearly been giving careful thought not only to community-type features (Skype compatability is mentioned in reports) but also to attracting content owners, through branded environments, as well as advertising overlays.

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Another key differentiator, it’s claimed, is that all content will be streamed directly from a central server. It’s already widely-known that despite being bases on a p2p architecture, Joost continues to server augment content distribution to its one million registered users.

As impressive the screen shots are, it remains to be seen whether WiTV’s backers will have the wherewithall to cut meaningful content deals: Joost’s formidable hype machine, the deep pockets of its Skype-founding backers and a liberal sprinkling of opportunism have allowed it to engage majors such as Viacom. Meanwhile, despite wheeling out Spike Lee at its launch to media movers and shakers in Cannes earlier this year, Babelgum has announced just 25 small, indie content deals.

One to watch…