TV Deprivation Day 5: Joost Gets It

There's More Than Meets the Eye on Cable-Like Service

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Since Wednesday's big finales, there hasn't been much for me chase down from TV's prime-time schedule. So I've been spending the waning hours of this experiment camped out at Joost, the new video offering from the guys who founded Skype and one that's often described, misleadingly, as a YouTube killer.
Thanks to Joost, lots of 'Transformers.' | ALSO: Post a comment on this series below.
Thanks to Joost, lots of 'Transformers.' | ALSO: Post a comment on this series below.

It would be tempting to call Joost the future of online video. Or maybe just the future of video, full stop. But the concept of future has gotten so darned provisional that I'm going to pull up short and just say it's really cool and the closest the internet has come to replicating the cable-TV experience.

Over six or so hours of viewing, I've enjoyed the following: "Transformers" episodes, silent films, a segment on technology hosted by porn star Ron Jeremy, music videos new and old, the blowing up of (unoccupied) mobile homes, more "Transformers" and a two-part series on a 30-year-old virgin. All of this was consumed in a beautiful full-screen format on my work monitor. Perhaps the biggest surprise of this whole endeavor is that the place where I've tapped out so many account-change stories could transform into something that lovingly displays the likes of Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin.

The deal with Joost, which puts a legal spin on peer-to-peer file-sharing, is that you download software that gives you access to professional video from cable networks such as Spike TV, CNN, Comedy Central, news sources such as Reuters and newer ventures such as the excellent broadband channel Heavy.com. It's a place to go if you want to watch professional-quality programming. It's free, with registration, and has ads.

This is not a YouTube rival, as such. It feels more like a competitor to TV, though I guess that's premature. Joost, after all, is still in expanded beta. I've been kicking around there since its early days, and both the available content and the list of advertisers have grown tremendously in just a matter of months. Marketers aboard include Coca-Cola, Nike and Hewlett-Packard. And Joost just inked a deal with Creative Artists Agency to lure big talent. So, all told, this is the real deal.

Could it replace TV? I doubt it. It does, however, offer a nice on-demand, sort of mobile alternative and, even better, a clear blueprint for how online video could grow into a better medium for advertisers, content-players and consumers.

If you've been reading this series, you know that one of my biggest criticisms of the current online-video scene is that big media treats it with the arrogance accumulated over decades of deciding where, how and when people should be entertained and informed. The beauty of the internet, of course, is that it has upended that power structure, making user participation, through communities, user forums, messaging and so forth, vital to how that content is distributed and used. Joost gets this. While it is very much dedicated to providing pro content, not user-generated, Joost comes equipped with some of the Web. 2.0 flourishes you'd expect: widgets, instant messaging and so forth. They could stand to be played up more but we're still in early days.

The week in review

  • Content companies have to get more programming online and faster. I didn't deal with it too much, but this whole P2P thing is real -- it's already decimating the record industry, and it's only a matter of time until it becomes easier and faster for even the less tech savvy among us to download the larger files of TV programs and films. The inherently decentralized nature of these networks makes them tough to police, and a policy of suing consumers who use them doesn't seem like a smart one at all. The best way to combat this may be to cut them off at the pass by making it as easy as possible to get content that's being bootlegged. Which is to say, all content.

  • These companies also have to come to grips with the fact that creating destinations for their online content is going to be tough. The future would seem to be in apps like Joost or Babelgum, where there's a wide selection of programming from a bunch of different content companies. I just don't buy CBS's Innertube or the upcoming joint venture between News Corp. and NBC will ever become places where consumers are going to want to hang out. I certainly didn't want to.

  • Oh, and I only cheated once, briefly, in a bar when my eyes accidentally glimpsed a bit of Major League Soccer match. Let's just say it was easy to turn away.
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