Few new technologies have generated more PR and press coverage during periods of the past year than IPTV: peer to peer television broadcast over the net. Companies like Joost have billed themselves as TV’s future. Joost’s raised huge pools of funding, recruited a high profile CEO, even partnered with talent agency Creative Artists . Then they went quiet. Not much has been said about Joost in a while. Yesterday, they captured a few new headlines with the announcement of a partnership with the NBA. Today, they added PBS. Joost is back in the spotlight.
In partnering with the NBA, Joost will launch a channel showing current and classic NBA highlights on the Joost platform. The web distribution channel will be similar to other programming the NBA makes available via digital media, including offerings on YouTube and MySpace.
Unlike a prior deal Joost struck with Major League Baseball at the end of September, the NBA deal will not likely have geographic distribution restrictions. (The MLB deal gave Joost the right to show highlights and full-length, free on-demand streams of recently aired baseball games but blocked viewers from the U.S. and Japan from participating due to conflicting agreements for paid on-demand services in those two markets.)
In partnering with PBS, Joost will offer a PBS specific channel on their platform. The content category will feature a selection of full-length PBS programing including episodes of series like History Detectives and Scientific American Frontiers.
Neither the NBA, nor PBS, will be giving Joost exclusive access to the video content they will license. For both, Joost will just be one part of a larger digital distribution strategy.
So the question now will be: can Joost build and retain an audience for this and other content?
IPTV, for all its champions has a comparable, if not greater, number of critics. There are three charges consistently directed at services like Joost:
i. The download requirements of a desktop player (Joost requires a customer to download software to be able to use the service) don’t match up to a typical Internet user’s usage patterns. People are used to working with web browsers and having a level of instant gratification. They may be unwilling to develop a new behavior pattern.
ii. Desktop player offerings have no exclusive content. They will likely be trumped by the migration of network TV programming to flash-based, in-browser offerings. Sites like Hulu, and those of the individual TV networks, house deep libraries of content which they often own the rights to and can make exclusive should they choose. The draw of that potential exclusivity, along with the marketing power of an established television brand, are things Joost and its peers won’t be able to compete with; and
iii. P2P services require an usually heavy volume of upstream traffic along with the downloads. Due to this load on servers, these services could be victim to ISP throttling and load balancing efforts that could detrimentally impact the availability or speed of their service. Direct streamed content, aided by Content Delivery Network (CDN’s) services, is almost entirely downstream. It’s easier for ISPs to manage and therefore more likely to be supported.
In a recent interview, Jeremy Allaire, the former CTO of Macrovision (now part of Adobe) and current founder of online video service, Brightcove, was asked what he thought of desktop players. His reply was that he was skeptical. He said, "we’ve seen incredibly limited adoption of Joost. I don’t know anyone who uses it. It’s not a good experience to have to go off into the desktop to get on-demand media when 10 years of being used to getting instant gratification and contextual framing through the web is just so powerful for users. It’s not clear that it will add some significant value, especially as the quality levels continue to rise."
Joost continues to build their content library with partnerships like these new deals with the NBA and PBS. It’ll be up to audiences to determine if Jeremy Allaire is right, or Joost is.
It’s a difficult race to handicap. Maybe Joost will make it as a desktop service, maybe they’ll find their future lies in embedding their service in hardware like set-top boxes and portable devices. It’s also possible, Joost could join the dark list of startups that drew the speculative dollars of investors but failed to find commercial success.
In the end, consumers will likely end up wherever they can get the best quality experience with the least inconvenience and the least amount of disruption to their accepted behaviors. Can Joost be that kind of service?
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