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Got Joost?

Peer to peer architectures can be a very efficient method of sharing content or copying large files across networks.  From Napster to Kazaa to Bit Torrent, their use has been well tested, and proven, for different types of downloads (legality notwithstanding).  Peer to Peer concepts also can be efficient and functional when working with content that is "time present" (e.g. Real Time Streaming as opposed to the delayed use of a file that cannot be accessed until fully downloaded). Skype proved this in the internet telephony marketplace.   

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Given peer to peer architecture’s ability to work with both time present and time delayed data, it’s only a small logical leap to envisage peer to peer architecture applied to other arenas.

The previously code named “Venice Project” was recently unveiled as such an application for streaming television content.  Skype founders, Niklas Zennström and Janus Friis, began the project with some of the proceeds following the sale of Skype to EBay for more than $2.5b in 2005.   

The new company, Joost (pronounced "juiced"), is set to allow consumers to watch ad-supported TV online through a downloaded software client.  The underlying architecture is reported to be based on similar peer to peer structures to those the two previously developed for Skype. 

The Joost application is still in beta tests.  I haven’t seen it, nor have I read test reports from anyone unaffiliated to the company that has.  My initial gut reaction (appropriately disclaimed based on the limited info so far available) is that the company, while being a good example of technology and media converging, will not likely be the maker of the next new killer app.

There are just too many ways to distribute content and build scalable architecture to support it.  Even if peer to peer proves brilliantly cost effective and efficient, Joost won’t be the sole player to apply it.  In fact, they’re not even the first notable company to try it.  Veoh, a San Diego based start-up backed by ex-Disney Chief Michael Eisner has been in publicly announced beta-tests of a similar concept for almost a year. 

Joost faces tremendous competition both as an Internet Video provider and in using peer to peer architecture.  I don’t see Joost having sufficient intellectual property protection to own much geography in either space.  In fact, I’d be surprised if there weren’t already a number of patents for video distribution that claim to cover part of the landscape Joost is trying to fence in.   Execution and marketing are likely going to be determinants of their success; that is always a risk. 

Then there is the issue of distribution: TV through the net is a crowded space rife not only with competing technologies but also complex “old-media” distribution agreements which can limit access by new parties.  (It’s no accident, for example, that HBO doesn’t release full length programming on AOL.  If they did, they’d have some real issues with their Cable and Satellite Subscription clients).   

Another issue is advertising.  Joost intends to exist as an ad-supported company providing free content.  That’s curious given the inclusion of features allowing users to fast forward through a program like they were watching TV on a DVR.   It’s hard to imagine advertisers accepting that scenario and paying for it. (One only needs to look back to the uproar in the early days of Tivo.) It is also  hard to imagine Joost competing with Apple, the Television Networks and all in between for pay-per-view downloads.

As a final concern – Articles on the company have repeated a claim from the company that Joost will be both "Piracy Proof" and capable of streaming content at broadcast resolution.   Both are things content owners probably love hearing.  It’s hard to believe, however, that the first claim will hold up.   So far, the idea of Piracy Proof has been as big an oxy-moron as the idea of an honest thief.

The efficiency and potential cost-effectiveness of Peer to Peer technologies may prove visionary for streaming TV.  The logic of the architecture makes sense.  The proposed bundling of search, chat and instant messaging features in the Joost platform is also a novelty feature that may appeal to users.The founding team of Joost knows a few things about viral marketing, and building buzz. There’s little doubt they are skilled at hype.  Early announcements seem keyed to build on that. The principals also have a track record of building a high functioning product.

There is little doubt the company has tremendous street credibility following Skype; and plenty of capital to play with.  Being on the wings of that success story may help them now, or they may prove themselves to have been a one trick pony (though with a sale in the billions of dollars, it’s no pony to be ashamed of). 

The screenshots and early hints at what Joost plans to offer are promising. Whether cool features and a good interface will be enough to differentiate Joost from the crowded playing field remains to be seen.

The competition they’re facing is fierce, and a lot of questions remain unanswered.

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