Joost -Internet TV for real

  By Basab Pradhan

I got an invite for Joost and tried it out yesterday. It rocked.

Joost, for those who haven’t heard about it yet, is basically internet TV. Full screen, high(er) quality, mainstream TV content streamed to your computer over broad band. The guys behind it are Janus Friis and Niklas Zennström, the same duo that did Kazaa and Skype. With their backgrounds you have to take Joost seriously.

And it doesn’t disappoint. Yesterday, I downloaded the beta version of the client software and settled down to try it out. My verdict – this was vastly superior to any other video on the internet and ‘acceptable’ when compared to regular TV. Every program started with a few seconds of rickety video but once the buffering kicked-in, it was smooth sailing from there on.

The content was not great, but there is frenetic deal-making going on to bring in content. The user interface is slick and easy to figure out. Overall, I quite liked it. The video quality isn’t as good as TV (regular, not high-def) but the ‘anytime, anywhere’ advantage more than makes up for that.

Other commentators have found the video experience less than exciting. It could be because of some technical problems that Joost had, that have since been fixed. It could be that I am willing to settle for less in exchange for anytime, anywhere. Or it could be that in the Bay Area the P2P infrastructure offers many nodes in my near vicinity.

Joost runs largely on peer-to-peer technology infrastructure though it does us some server/CDN infrastructure as well. P2P technologies like BitTorrent work best for popular downloads that have peak download periods. That’s when their advantages over regular server/CDN infrastructure are most evident. On the other hand, they don’t do very well for ‘long-tail’ downloads. It would seem then that the user experience on Joost should improve, at least for popular programs, as they sign up more users.

If Joost becomes successful it can change the rules of the game in the television industry. Here are some observations on how its impact might be felt:

– Joost’s ‘anytime, anywhere’ benefit is far greater than what a DVR like TiVo can give you. In my house, there is practically no TV that is watched live except for the occasional NBA game. Everything is recorded on DVRs and watched later. There are millions of households like ours. Some of them will trade-off an inferior video experience in Joost for the luxury of not having to program recording. Or have accidents like this.

– We also watch some stuff on Comcast OnDemand, which unfortunately has very little programming. OnDemand, in concept, is pretty close to Joost but with far better quality. If OnDemand could crank up the content, it could probably cut Joost off at the pass. But current cable technology is probably going to slow them down if not make it impossible.

– Joost will feed on the global appetite for high quality TV programming. In this, it will compete against internet video, basically YouTube and its ilk, and will deliver a higher quality user experience for commercial programming (not user generated video).

– Joost has ads (what did you expect – free TV and no ads?). At this time they show about a minute of commercials every half an hour. These cannot be fast forwarded, unlike on a DVR or even OnDemand. And they cannot be ignored like text ads on YouTube. In fact because watching TV on a computer is a different setting than watching TV, I think these ads will receive more attention even compared to live TV ads. This is good news for advertisers.

– There is more good news for advertisers. Because Joost knows my profile (Male, 42, live in CA etc.) and the kinds of programs I watch, it can help advertisers direct more relevant ads to me. The ability to target ads combined with the greater attention paid by viewers to non-forwardable commercials should make advertisers very happy. Rates per ad served should be much higher. This will allow Joost to keep minutes of advertising low. It will also be better for consumers who are sick of broadcast ads that are not relevant (women’s fashion to men), are constantly repeated (how many times will you show me the same ad in a game?) and are so numerous they crowd out the real program.

– Studios should also be happy. Making their programming available ‘anytime, anywhere’ will cut down illegal downloads on P2P networks. And ultimately, anything that the advertisers like, the studios like.Joost is a big play. There are big risks – will the technology hold up, will the networks and studios license their content. But a business model which works for the content owner, the advertiser and the viewer (just), is as good as it gets. With broadband connections around the world growing rapidly, Joost is playing to where the “puck is going to be.”

This article first appeared in Basab’s blog .

2 thoughts on “Joost -Internet TV for real

  1. Pingback: Like that only » Blog Archive » The end is near - for the DVD

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