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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Joost: two fingers up to UK broadcasters

29 07 2007

Noteworthy quote from a recent interview with Joost co-founder Janus Friis in last Monday’s Guardian newspaper: “If the UK broadcasters want to focus on Project Kangaroo [the mooted online video aggregation site tying up all UK terrestrial broadcasters], then fine. We’ll focus on countries like France and China and I’ve no doubt the UK will develop over time.”





Joost passes 1m users milestone

26 07 2007

Rumours had been knocking around previously on these numbers, but yesterday Joost founders Niklas Zennstrom and Janus Friis publicly confirmed that more than 1 million users have registered for the online video service since its launch.





Joost: friend or foe to traditional interests?

17 07 2007

It falls to Canada’s Globe and Mail to produce one of the more insightful pieces I’ve read about Joost in recent months. The main thrust is that Joost’s success is in offering traditional broadcasters and content owners (ie the ones with most stuff people want to [sometimes pay to] see) is that they are prepared to offer the kind of licensing terms and content security which is palatable to the aforementioned.

Although the piece is very enthusiastic about features such as geo-IP restriction (you can’t watch it unless you’re in a territory where the provider has license to make the content available), this is a basic must-have for any of these services.

So what drew my eye? A couple of quotes. First Stacey Seltzer of Joost’s acknowledgement that: “television is the greatest medium for mass communication that there’s ever been, [so] let’s start with that experience and then bring all the cool aspects of the Web to it.” Obvious, perhaps, but a basic fact many incumbents overlook: TV is the pre-eminent medium, certain audiences (the younger) are shunning it. But one step at a time for TV people (and the rest of the people they serve who don’t happen to be young); these businesses continue to enjoy a very healthy linear bottom-line with another eye on ‘the future’.

Liz Gannes, who writes about online media for the blog NewTeeVee.com, also has it spot on by saying Joost is in “a really nice position right now, because they are seen as someone that is respectful [of content owners’ rights] and so they have a leg up on competitors.” Know your market and which stage of the evolutionary cycle it’s at. A basic rule forgotten by Silicon Valley start-ups with hard-ons induced by latest VC injections (the V could as much stand for Viagra as venture).

Joost is awfully good at cosying up with the stalwarts of the traditional content industry by: A) appearing to know their business – or at least acknowledge its role; B) speak a language execs in the industry will recognise; C) be prepared to play the longer game for bigger stakes. The Viacom deal was merely opportunism (rightly capitalised on) in the immediate fallout of the latter’s decision to instruct YouTube to take the former’s content down, but these guys are serious about creating a service which is driven by major brands (and have intellectualised a little beyond the mere concept).

Joost also understands about content owners wanting integrity over the experience, albeit within a landscape which disintermediates them.

So far (from an industry perspective)… Joost 9/10 for its approach. Others 1-3/10 for theirs.





Checkpoint Charlie for old and new media

12 07 2007

Reuters offers coverage of Allen & Co’s media conference in Idaho, where Skype and Joost founders Janus Friis and Niklas Zennstrom were this year’s star turn. “The time in the market is good for traditional media and digital to come together,” Mike Volpi, Joost’s newly appointed chief executive, told Reuters. “Technology has matured to a point where rights can be protected properly.”

Sling Media’s CEO Blake Krikorian was there too, impressing Wall Street types not just with his placeshifting gizmo, but also news of his first major content deals with CBS and the National Hockey League.