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Creators of Kazaa unveil Web TV service

January 17, 2007|Dawn C. Chmielewski | Times Staff Writer

The duo behind the blockbuster Internet applications Skype and Kazaa think they have the secret to online video: Make it more like TV.

Joost (pronounced "juiced") seeks to merge the best features of Internet file-sharing technology -- such as its ability to deliver content efficiently -- with a television-like viewing experience. Industry insiders who have seen an early version of the Internet television service extol the full-screen video quality and the simple interface, which is more of an electronic channel guide than the lists of videos on popular sites such as YouTube.

"Joost offers a very Mac-like experience," said Adam Ware, head of business development for United Talent Agency, who has been testing the service that was developed by Niklas Zennstrom and Janus Friis and unveiled Tuesday.

There's no shortage of ways to watch TV shows delivered via the Internet. Apple Inc.'s iTunes Store sells 350 shows for download; YouTube offers short comedy bits from CBS' "Late Late Show With Craig Ferguson" along with its trademark user-created videos; and networks stream top shows for free online after they air, including ABC's "Ugly Betty."

Joost isn't about offering clips or downloads but creating a lineup of varied programming for high-speed Internet connections -- a computer equivalent to cable or satellite television service. It is working with media partners, such as Warner Music Group and "Bridezillas" producer September Films, to make their programming available.

"It's not about finding a clip, it's about finding a channel that you like and watching it," said Joost Chief Executive Fredrik de Wahl. "This is where the traditional TV model is powerful. You can flip between channels and find something that interests you."

De Wahl said Joost had taken steps to thwart piracy. The video is encrypted, and individual users will not be able to contribute clips because of the difficulties of monitoring such user-generated content for copyright violations.

Michael Nash, Warner Music's senior vice president of digital strategy, said Joost shared the label's concerns about piracy. Warner has begun experimenting with Joost to create a Red Hot Chili Peppers channel, which includes a behind-the-scenes look at the making of the band's "Dani California" music video.

"This is a genius blend of Internet and television," Nash said. "People have been talking about this kind of convergence for a while. From my perspective, thinking about the user experience, it's a great blend of ondemand selection of linear programming mixed with interactive features and community features, like chat."

As with broadcast TV, the shows will be provided free to the viewer -- with commercial ad support -- when Joost becomes widely available later this year. Viewers will be able to take advantage of community features, rating the videos or chatting online with others using the community's chat channel.

Anton Denissov, a media and entertainment analyst for Yankee Group, said Zennstrom and Friis had a knack for innovating just as a technology reaches the mainstream -- as they did with online file-sharing and Internet phone calls. Viewers ages 18 to 34 are spending more hours a day on the Internet than in front of a television, Denissov said. And on-demand Internet video is growing more accessible; 53% of American households have high-speed access.

Nonetheless, Denissov said Joost faced obstacles. It still needs content, an audience, revenue and a path to the living room TV. Getting high-quality video that will attract viewers is expensive -- it's hard to afford without a healthy income, he said. But the needed advertising revenue won't come until the audience arrives.

"The Comcasts, the Verizons and the AT&Ts of the world are better positioned to handle the market. They have the audience, they've got positive profit, they've got a path to the living room," Denissov said. "Their weakness lies in their slowness to innovate. They might just open a hole small enough for guys like Joost to enter."

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dawn.chmielewski@latimes.com

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