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5/29/2008
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Joost Leads The Way With Web Video

Joost has learned a lot about what people watch online, and who watches.

While Joost is still a leader in high-quality video by any measure, it was all the singe a year ago. One of the first businesses to start online as a video network and aggregator, it hired ex-Cisco executive (and some say John Chambers heir apparent) Mike Volpi as its CEO.

Some of Joost's magic comes in its network architecture, which is probably no surprise given Volpi's heritage. It's an impressive marvel of technology and an ambitious endeavor, but compared to others, it comes with one significant drawback (which also happens to be its strength): the need to download client software. Volpi confirmed a rumor that a clientless (or more accurately, browser plug-in) version of Joost is slated for the summer.

Joost's site says today's product is still in beta, something Joost's senior VP of engineering, Matt Zelesko, dismissed, saying, "Gmail is still in beta, too." But much has changed during the past year, including Joost's architecture and the location of its data centers.

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Since launching publicly, Volpi says, the company has learned a great deal about "what people watch, about viewing patterns worldwide, about interactive [features]." For instance, while many experts say online viewing is rife with attention deficit disorder, Joost has found average viewing times around 17 or 18 minutes. But quality must be top-notch. Volpi also says the content people watch online isn't what they would watch on TV, namely more science fiction, comedy, and animation. The demographics map to early adopters: males ages 20 to 30.


Mike Volpi, CEO, Joost

Mike Volpi, the man behind some of the magic
Joost's client started out very futuristic. I downloaded an early beta months ago and found the UI as intriguing as a video game, but also as initially confusing (for instance, there wasn't an obvious way to simply quit the application). Joost learned that the user just wants simple navigation, Volpi says.

As a content aggregator, Joost is fantastic for more of what Volpi calls the midtail (of the "long tail") programming--the stuff you wouldn't necessarily see on mainstream television. This is truly the content that the Internet is fostering.

Like bands that launch themselves on places such as MySpace, new shows will find their way in front of larger audiences via sites like Joost. That's because Internet TV, as Volpi points out, has so many advantages, primarily that content is easier to find and largely on demand, not to mention more is geared to special interests. Just look at huge hits like KateModern, Quarterlife, and Lonelygirl15. Some of these shows will develop on the Internet and then might move to TV ("the Internet is an audition platform," Volpi says), but some are meant to only do well on the Internet (Quarterlife was wildly successful on the Internet, but failed on regular TV).

Photo illustrations by Sek Leung

video artwork by Sek Leung

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