How Joost lost its way

1 07 2009

Joost yesterday confirmed it was pulling out of consumer-facing services. Where did it fail where Hulu succeeds?

Lesson number one: when breaking a new product category, be modest, even if you were the founders of Skype and Kazaa.

Lesson number two: if you’re dealing with a media and entertainment industry sh*t scared about its future, be humble and straightforward. Suggesting that you’re about to replace television would be the wrong approach.

Lesson number three: speak a language that TV networks understand. Get them in the comfort zone and build.

Three simple reasons why Joost only had black and white episodes of Lassie and vids of girls in bikinis.

The arrogance of its founders was its principal failing.

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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.





Indies embracing the web and new platforms

3 02 2008

The growth of new distribution opportunities via the internet has prompted some independent production companies to find additional options for exploiting their content, while others are producing content specifically for the web.

Here’s a round-up of some of the key players so far:

  • Miles Beckett and Luke Hyams, the co-creators of LonelyGirl15, are rightly dubbed the kings of social networking drama. The duo have gone on to form LG15 Studios, with backing from Hollywood talent brokers Creative Artists Agency, deepening their relationship with Bebo by producing Kate Modern.
  • Veteran U.S. independent Mark Burnett Productions, best known for a slew of reality TV formats, has been actively syndicating derivative programming to web portals for a number of years. Its series Rock Star: INXS was offered via MSN, albeit as an enhancement / spin-off to the linear show. However, the company is getting more active with pure new media plays: last September it launched Gold Rush, an online reality game via AOL.
  • Ex-Disney chief Mike Eisner’s Vuguru was founded in March 2007 and rapidly cut through with Prom Queen, a scripted drama comprising 80 x 90-second minisodes, distributed via its own site , YouTube and Veoh (which Eisner is also backing).
  • U.K. indie RDF is currently developing Rough Cuts. a comedy portal featuring full-length download-to-own programmes from its own catalogues (RDF is a distributor, as well as a production company), other independents and, it hopes, under license from broadcasters. Last July, the company’s U.S. offshoot inked a licensing deal with Daily Motion.
  • Endemol – the company which brought the world Big Brother – was one of the first major indies to license its back catalogue content to U.K. IPTV service BT Vision, as well as to pure web plays, such as Joost and newcomer Next.TV. The company is also producing Gap Year, a web exclusive travelogue for Bebo. At the C21 Future Media conference in London late last year, Endemol’s Peter Cowley, managing director of interactive media, disclosed that its digital division was contributing between 10 to 20% of overall revenues.
  • FremantleMedia’s strategy focuses on marrying up excellent creativity, low budgets and profitability. The company – behind linear hits such as American Idol – owned by media conglomerate Bertelsmann subsidiary RTL Group, has a new platforms division overseen by programme syndication veteran Gary Carter. Aside from licensing deals, the company’s key new media property is web and mobile comedy channel Atomic Wedgie, an aggregation of younger-skewing short-form programmes which achieved nearly 3 million views via MySpace during Q4 2007. The company is working on an interactive drama format for syndication to web aggregators during 2008.
  • IMG and its television division TWI has established a fearsome reputation for global syndication (the business was built out of sports talent management) and boasts a programme catalogue of 250,000 hours of premier sports events (Wimbledon, the PGA Tournament and U.K. Premier League are among those it represents). The company has been developing content propositions for new platforms – albeit based on wobblier technology than today – as far back as 2003. The company’s Gamer.tv format (which enjoys the dubious distinction of being banned in China) was one of the first made-for-TV shows to be syndicated to web portals, such as MSN.




TV nets face up to growing online competition

25 09 2007

Variety reports on the latest online video forecasts produced by market analysts Screen Digest: the U.K. market for online TV will be worth £181 million (US $362 million) by 2011, but growth of the online movies segment is predicted to be slower.

There’s no doubting that across the Pond, the competitive environment is really gaining traction, as observed by the Financial Times: in the two years since that watershed moment when iTunes first started offering download-to-own TV shows from Disney, all of the major networks have scrambled to not only beef up their own sites, but also to broker those all-important third party syndication deals.

In the last week alone, Walt Disney-owned ABC has agreed a deal to syndicate its shows, for free, via AOL. The net joins CBS, which has been aggressively pursuing its own syndication strategy for the past few months, while Hulu.com, the online video aggregator site JV between NBC Universal and NewsCorp. is due to bow next month.

Hopping back over the Pond to the U.K., the BBC, ITV, Channel Four and five all have online catch-up TV services: the BBC offers the broadest range and volume of hours, while ITV and Channel Four are increasingly bolstering their catch-up offers with back catalogue shows. Satellite broadcaster BSkyB is broadening its Anytime service, with different flavours of the catch-up service available both via broadband and Sky+ DVRs; the company’s recent pact with Sony will also see an extension of the service for Playstation PSPs.

The Screen Digest research referenced at the top of this post acknowledges that established players such as TV networks also face competition from non-traditional market entrants, such as Joost and iTunes. Significantly, it may be players such as Apple and Microsoft, which stand to gain the most if they can finesse their strategies to leverage consumer relationships through ownership of devices, such as iPods, or the world’s most uniquitous operating system.

Four predictions of my own:

  1. The last year or so has merely been about positioning and trying to establish which online video offers work, and which don’t. Note CBS is moving beyond merely offering full-length TV shows online and gradually ramping up 2.0 functionality: conversational content. 2008 will see the space grow up considerably. 
  2. Whether it’s aggregators or TV networks’ own sites, online video offers are principally restricted to ‘walled gardens’ of content, usually from the operating network or a select few content partners. This is wholly alien to the TV viewing experience: consumers don’t watch shows from a single network or producer. The walled garden approach smacks of protectionism and, over the fuller term, it won’t last for all but the smallest handful of players. The creation of Hulu.com is the first acknowledgement by two major players that hybrid partnerships such as thes, which broaden out the available content offer, are the way to go. YouTube is further evidence of a successful broad-brush aggregation model – albeit with some copyright complications.
  3. The market is already overcrowded: come further shocks to the world’s stock markets (an inevitability), watch the venture capital evaporate. Incumbent players looking to second or third round financing, against a backdrop of unproven business models (let alone profit) will shutter or consolidate. Viacom had better be hoping that it can pick up the assets of Joost for a song.
  4. Apple TV and Microsoft Media Center are the first two examples of mainstream PC/TV convergence: but neither has yet created a compelling enough content offer nor low enough price points to give the products a reasonable run at setting the market alight, beyond early adopters. Next gen games consoles from Sony and Microsoft will up the ante by gradually bolstering their IP-delivered VOD offers, but even these may struggle to break through beyond gaming loyalists. Either some boffin will come up with the cheapest and most elegant plug-and-play convergence-enabler – witness what Freeview set-tops did for the U.K. market – or new product categories, such as networked DVD player / recorders or DVRs will hit that magic tipping point of attractive pricing and mainline retail distribution.




Enter the Joost-alikes

11 09 2007

When online video aggregator overhauled its user interface, it was with more than a nod towards the approach taken by incumbent service Joost.

Next came a mash-up of Joost and YouTube, brought to us by enthusiast Paul Yanez (who has done the same with iTunes and Babelgum; though running more than one of these at a time will likely crash your machine).

Now the sincerest form of flattery of all, DNAStream is offering a service which slavishly looks like Joost, but purports to be from another service provider. However, unlike Joost the service requires no client to be downloaded and runs in a standard browser window, nor does DNAStream provide any information about itself on the site (presumably, for fear that Joost lawyers will come-a-knocking).





Joost acquisition; opens API to developers

4 09 2007

Joost has hired developer Hal Schechner and snapped up the assets of his fledgling site OnTheToob, which allows users to customise channels, reports JoostTeam.com. 

In related news, alongside various bug fixes in the new release of Joost, the company has announced that it is to open up the API to developers, allowing developers to create their own plug-ins.





NFL seizes back control of its online video destiny

3 09 2007

The U.S. National Football League (NFL) has regained direct control over some of the most valuable online video out there by hosting material on its own site, ending a seven-year partnership with CBS Sportsline.

The NFL’s new approach gives it more say over the context in which its material is presented, as well as leverage when it comes to setting advertising rate cards. The move also rekindles the debate over whether walled gardens limited to the content of a single provider, or syndication via broader aggregators will win the day.

For certain genres of content — sport and new release movies as examples — restricted availability via a single destination will likely continue to work. But for everything else, TV shows included, it’s an approach which flies in the face of one of the most established consumer beahviours: the way in which they watch TV and that this is never limited to a single channel or network.

It’s the latter approach which informs emerging plays from the likes of Joost and Babelgum, with one current downside, neither has yet to sign up a breadth of content providers which make either service a destination in their own right.

Hulu.com, the soon-to-launch online TV portal JV between NewsCorp. and NBC Universal (NBCU), promises to redress the balance, and even now it’s clear that at least one of the partners is re-thinking its distribution relationships with third parties, such as last week’s revelation that NBCU is to end its deal with iTunes.