It seems like there is no end to the examples of metaTrends coming at us every day, such as the Snowflake effect of mass personalization, and the convergence and conversion of yesterday’s mediums into today’s media and messages.
In the span of a relatively few years, we have seen the medium of television grow from the TWO channels that I recall as a child, to the 100+ that cable TV brought with it, and then to hundreds of channels that satellite TV now delivers. But as the saying goes “you ain’t seen nothin’ yet!”
Today I want to talk about one that promises to be a precursor to the rapid evolution—some would say, “revolution”—of the medium formerly known as television or TV. With the upcoming launch of a new company called Joost (pronounced “juiced”), formerly known as the “Venice Project”, we are about to see a massive mashup of nearly infinite personal choices in TV-based content. I believe this will be yet another example of another theme I’ve talked about—exponential change—because we are about to experience the exponential growth of television content. (Now THERE is a frightening thought for some!)
Joost is being brought to you by the same duo who previously unleashed the explosion of file and music sharing by creating Kazaa, and then went on to unleash the growth of online phone conversations by creating Skype. Now a bit smarter and armed with a whole lot more resources (eBay bought Skype for a paltry $2.6 billion) Janus Friis and Niklas Zennström appear ready to have the same effect on TV content with the upcoming release their latest brainchild.
If you look closely at some these Joost screenshots, you’ll notice that it provides various options—personalized “smart channels”, search capabilities to find just what you want, a buddy list, IM, recommendations, feedback loops to “Rate It”, chat, and “Share What I’m Watching.
Check out last month’s (Feb 2007) Wired magazine to get Spencer Reiss’ coverage in “Why Joost is Good for TV”. Reiss will give you better insight into the potential power of Joost and the future of video content. As Reiss puts it, their vision may be challenging but it is clear:
“The vision: universal TV, running on a hybrid P2P platform—millions of exquisitely networked PCs fortified with traditional video servers. Free to viewers who download the player app. Friendly to content owners, thanks to industrial-strength encryption. Delightful to advertisers, adding pinpoint targeting to their all-time favorite medium. Everyone’s a winner!”
The “secret” to their past and (they hope) future success is to build systems based on distributed computing, known as Peer to Peer or P2P, where the users/customers become the network. These new forms of P2P actually work better as the demand goes up and more end user computers are added to this dynamic network. This is in stark contrast to the models that the likes of Google, YouTube and iTunes are using, where they have to store and stream the content, so demand typically slows down the overall system. Therefore, the major benefit of this new model that Joost is using is mass scalability. They’ll certainly need it if Joost takes off and billions of people start watching trillions of “channels” of on-demand “just right for you” TV content.
Joost is also another great example of the “mashup” or Lego-block-type approach I’ve long ranted and raved about. As Reiss got from his discussions with Janus and Friis, this is not so much a “skunk works” project as it is a mashup shop for “Lego-style architecture + open standards + existing public code”. Interestingly enough, Joost CTO Dirk-Willem van Gulik doesn’t even like TV, but he has a big thing for Legos. So when he is in CTO mode, he calls it “a big exercise in systems integration” but when he tries to summarize, he simply says “We’re snapping together Legos.”
Currently, for each hour of broadcast TV programming, a viewer watches 12 to 20 minutes of advertising. Joost’s business model also depends primarily on advertising, but the distinct difference is that personalized TV enables highly targeted marketing and therefore MUCH less advertising…like, 90 percent less—as little as one minute per hour of viewing, if projections pan out. “The key in the past (to advertising) was volume and frequency,” says Clark. “Now it’s going to be quality.”
Joost has also made the conscious decision to NOT go after user-generated content. Given the current problems YouTube is having with the recent billion dollar lawsuit from Viacom, this decision is looking to be a very smart move—for now.
As per my previous posting on old media and new content, Joost is transforming the old medium of TV into the new content and is leveraging our current behaviors in terms of TV watching time. Reiss notes this in his Wired article:
“...it’s to migrate television’s mass audience to the Web. 'We want to be in the space where people are doing what they do now with TV, watching four to six hours a day,' says Henrik Werdelin, 30, another MTV defector who spearheads overall product development now at Joost. He put it a bit more pointedly when he added, 'That’s a lot of YouTube clips.'"
Of course, there is no telling if Joost will itself turn out to be a winner. It may suffer the same fate as Napster, which was taken over by Kazaa. There is no end to formidable competitors and opponents in all of this, and it is just a question of who the big players will be and how soon it will happen. There is NO question in my mind that it WILL happen and will change and shape our behaviors just as the unleashing of other forms of content such as text, music and phone conversations has changed us.
Even if you don’t see much value in having specific content on TV, don’t dismiss it outright. Instead, begin to imagine what you can do when you can have not just any content, but just the right content for YOU or for those you work with, your friends, or your family. As William Gibson so accurately put it “The future is already here, it’s just not evenly distributed yet.” Hope you will help to even out that distribution in the world.