Startup web broadcaster Joost signs deal with Warner Brothers

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Friday, May 11, 2007

Internet TV came one step closer to reality as startup web broadcaster Joost recently announced that it signed a deal with Warner Brothers to host some of its WBTV-branded content. This deal, along with content deals with other television providers, lately Time Warner and Sony Pictures Television, makes Joost (pronounced "juiced") the sweetheart aggregator and provider in the coming on-demand, freely distributed online TV broadcasts.

Joost bills itself as an online community where viewers, "can watch what you want, when you want, in full-screen eye-quality proper TV." The service currently provides about 150 channels, although the availability of some channels varies by country or region due to copyright restrictions. Viewers can navigate screen menus to make programming choices, and then use “widgets” from drop-down menus that allow users to interact with the programming.

"Widgets include a clock, integration of instant messaging, RSS/News feeds and a chat room for the particular channel being viewed on the screen. Users have the ability to opt out of the widgets during viewing or can easily access them from the mouse-activated menus," according to John P. Gamboa of the Dailey Aztec.

The development efforts at Joost are backed by technology-savvy web entrepreneurs Niklas Zennström and Janus Friis. The two used Internet peer-to-peer networking to create Kazaa, and then later Skype. The cutting-edge music file sharing and telephony implementations of these two applications, some say bleeding edge, appear to have had an affect on the approach being used now by the two at Joost along with co-developers. The copyright infringement-plagued Kazaa was sold to Sharman Networks in 2002. Skype was sold to eBay in October 2005 for $2.6 billion. In July last year, Kazaa settled with music record labels by making a $100 million payment as reparations for illegal file sharing activities employed by users of the application that enabled the distribution of copyright-infringed music files.

People are looking for increased choice and flexibility in their TV experience...

—Fredrik de Wahl, CEO, Joost

Kazaa became a copyright bust. Skype became a jaw-dropping hit, and a hit in the jaw of telcom carriers whose management of voice transmission became undermined by the sub-set of Internet users with broadband connectivity and peer-to-peer web awareness. The evolution is distinctively one-way. Online broadband peer-to-peer connectivity is here to stay after a nasty birth.

"People are looking for increased choice and flexibility in their TV experience, while the entertainment industry needs to retain control over their content," said Joost chief executive officer Fredrik de Wahl. "We’ve married that consumer desire with the industry’s interests."

The "marriage" of TV content to "consumer desire" is the hot-spot that media conglomerates are still seemingly trying to figure out as they dispense their less valuable content for Internet consumption. Joost has managed to secure some rights to webcast programming, but the content is not the highest quality broadcasted TV programming currently available through established subscription cable and satellite distribution channels, or even free airwave TV.

Underlying the concept of Internet TV is the distribution of content in a way that is more efficient than the existing model. Peer-to-peer networking over the Internet makes programming available when a user asks for it. The 'on-demand' feature of this approach frees up space in the distribution pipeline and provides feedback to the aggregator to know exactly what is in demand. It gives a middle-man the leverage to negotiate with media conglomerates and then manage a pipeline flooded with unviewed content, thereby conserving bandwidth. It also lets viewers opt for free online TV programming through content arrangements made by the web broadcaster, who acts as a gateway to the programs. However, it is not an advertising-free service.

The Joost hoopla is partly spurred on by its expansionist decision on May 1 to allow users of the Beta version to distribute 99 invitations to other people who could become Beta users.


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