Sunday, May 20, 2007

Joost

We are in the final days...of TV1.0. The signs are everywhere. Most recently, I received an invite (thanks to a sympathetic reader) to beta test Joost--a combo software client and web-based content library that allows the user to demonstrate for themselves that the old way of doing things is numbered.

TV1.0 is the familiar old broadcast model of one broadcaster sending to many, passive "receivers." TV stations send their signal out and we sit and watch it. Defined by limited spectrum, there were only a few channels, shows appeared in their set time slot, for the defined number of minutes less the minutes devoted to the ubiquitous ads. Shows are designed to appeal to the broadest number of people and offend the fewest. Cable changed very little except that it gave you more channels. PBS introduced the idea of voluntary subscription support--but remains in other ways locked into the broadcast model as well.

There's lots to hate about this model of video. (And I've been happy to jump in; see "Die TV. Die! Die! Die!" or "Why You Want Real Bandwidth".) I've called the emerging model "DV" for Downloadable Video. The basic idea is that when bandwidth is no longer scarce (e.g. when we have fiber to the home) and we can download video to our hearts content, then the reasons for the old, annoying way of getting video will go away and new forms will emerge that cater to our obvious interest in watching shows whenever we want to, unlimited by advertiser-defined time slots, and uninterrupted by ads. Shows can be designed to appeal to the passionate viewer and world-wide, cheap, direct-to-consumer distribution can be counted on to provide an audience to support even the most specialized shows.

Joost plays in to this because it has become the most credible contender for long-show, commercially-produced content king. (YouTube has the short piece, self-produced end of the DV market pretty much sown up--and in some ways is even further into a DV1.0 world.) Joost first hit the news as the brainchild of the same guys who brought you the telephony-disrupting Skype and terrified the music and video businesses with Kazaa. The trick in all these enterprises was leveraging the unused bandwidth of customers using an idea described as peer-to-peer aka P2P. In return for the downloaded service you get you let the network use your spare uploading capacity.

Joost uses this technology as well and so holds down their main operating costs...but the real splash came when they began to sign up real, long-form content and supported it with in-video advertising. That gave them both content credibility and a visible business plan--something no similar competitor has. The jury is still out on whether long-form content has to be supported by advertising that is embedded in the download or whether, like YouTube, advertising can be on the supporting web page or whether, like iTunes, a pay-per-view model is possible.

Part of what is interesting about Joost is that they are setting up to be a very social site. They've got chat, you can invite friends, and there is an API for new widgets that could further extend the ability to hook into IP services and RSS feeds. This opens doors. Conceivably one could invite friends from all over the country to watch the same show or sporting event and chat online while it was playing. No doubt "clubs" will arise focused around particular shows and scheduled meetings. RSS will allow for further amalgamation and integration with other services and video feeds.

But the proof is in the pudding; or in this case, the viewing. I recently sat down, played around with the (very slick) interface and actually settled in to watch a commercial TV/now DV show. It played at full screen on my laptop--there was noticeable blockiness but no actual hesitations even though the feed was being relayed over my wifi. Cox had provided me access to the first real, commercial television show I've streamed down and watched in its entirety over the internet instead of watching it when it was scheduled to be on cable. It's a sign. We're in the final days of TV1.0.


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(Like the idea and have found by clicking through that Joost is still in beta and requires an invite from a user? Happy days: GigaOm's influential NewTeeVee blog has the pull to get a simple sign-in sheet for its readers. You can use it too.)


Incidently, there are other, less high-profile startups trying to do something similar. The Joost page on Wikipedia points to several. I'd particularly recommend the Democracy site and player.

2 comments:

Nicholas said...

Glad to see that it was working for you, as I've heard that a few people are having issues just getting the client to run.

Problems aside, I really do like the concept (and I often have Joost running on another computer in the background on an extra computer while I'm doing other work at home... I've watched all of what Joost has of Ren and Stimpy that way already..). Building a set-top box for this system wouldn't be too hard (Especially if they can get the promised Linux client out, though you might be able to run the Mac client on the AppleTV).

And thanks for your heads up on Democracy Now. It's nice to see that they actually have a Linux client so I can try it out on my laptop (and after checking real quick, it's already in the Ubuntu package repository!).

John said...

Hi Nick,

Thanks for the Joost invite. I've enjoyed playing around with it.

You mention people having trouble getting it running. I have had some fairly severe flakiness--but then it is in Beta. Sometimes the first launch will quit when I try to navigate but if it gets past that point it seems pretty solid.

I'm torn a bit about the slick interface. It is slick and seems functional...but it is also very non-standard. I'm an unrepentent advocate of standard interface conventions. (yeah, call me a fuddy-duddy)

Democracy is really pretty neat and it occupies a place between YouTube and something like Joost.

John