New Web Sites Aim for TV
NEW YORK (AP) -- Watching video online in small, fuzzy boxes is
heading the way of rabbit ears. Some highly anticipated Web
sites are being modeled on making the experience of watching
video online more like watching television. These sites rely on
software that enlarges the interface so that it fills your
computer screen - from edge to edge.
This new wave of applications is led by Joost and includes
VeohTV and Babelgum. Though all are in beta (testing) phases,
the hype has been mounting - leading many to claim the next big
advance in online video is imminent.
"The distribution problem is starting to get solved by many
different people, but the experience of online video is still
very poor," said Veoh founder Dmitry Shapiro. "Companies like
Veoh and Joost are trying to create a more TV-like experience
Of course, YouTube, which Google Inc. bought for $1.76 billion
last November, is the site that braved the online video path.
Though YouTube offers the option of a full-screen mode, video is
typically watched in a smaller box that can be embedded in other
These new sites, all of which are ad-supported and transmit
video with peer-to-peer technology, are seeking to move beyond
YouTube by improving video quality, attracting professionally
produced content and expanding the viewing experience - which is
to say: to be more like TV.
Babelgum's slogan is: "TV experience, Internet substance." Veoh
touts: "VeohTV makes watching Internet as simple as watching
television." Joost simply states: "The new way of watching TV."
Each of the three work nearly the same way. You download the
application from the respective Web site. When that's finished,
you have a desktop icon that will launch the application. It
then fills your screen with an on-demand-style choice of videos
arranged in near broadcast-quality channels.
Joost - founded by Janus Friis and Niklas Zennstrom (the
founders of the Internet telephone company Skype and the
music-sharing service Kazaa) - says it has created enough buzz
to attract 1 million beta users.
Joost's strategy has been to sign deals with major content
providers, making copyright lawsuits unlikely. (YouTube, on the
other hand, is being sued by Viacom Inc. for more than $1
billion.) It has inked deals with Viacom, CBS, CNN, the NHL,
Sony and others.
"The early stages of video content on the Internet was a lot of
user-generated stuff, stuff like my grandmother and her cat,"
said Joost chief executive officer Mike Volpi. "What we're
trying to do is evolve that experience into something that the
viewer doesn't view just out of interest, but actually builds an
affinity with that particular programming content."
Volpi notes users won't watch long-format video "on a postage
stamp-size thing." But altering viewing habits to watch more
than 5-minute clips even on a full-screen application may be
A poll conducted last September by The Associated Press and Time
Warner Inc.'s AOL found that only one in five online video
viewers have watched or downloaded a full-length movie or TV
James McQuivey, a TV and media technology analyst for Forrester
Research, believes people will grow more accustomed to long-form
material as it becomes easier to download it.
But he cautions that Joost is "an evolutionary step, not a
"If there's anything that Joost does, it moves the ball
forward," said McQuivey. "It tells people that the TV and the PC
are not two separate worlds. But as long as we're still
mimicking the TV on the PC, we're failing to appreciate the
value of combining those two worlds."
Babelgum bears many similarities to Joost, but is primarily
focused on video from independent producers, rather than
mainstream sources, said co-founder and CEO Valerio Zingarelli.
Zingarelli said Babelgum also plans to embed its platform in
set-top boxes by the end of 2008, which would make its content
viewable on traditional TV sets. Apple offers such a box for
video purchased on iTunes, and more video companies are expected
to follow suit.
Veoh has both a YouTube-like site at Veoh.com and VeohTV, which
Shapiro called a "video browser." Though VeohTV is pursing deals
with the major TV networks and many Hollywood studios, its
approach is to cull all the Internet's free video in one place -
"like Google for video," said Shapiro. It also allows viewers to
record video like a DVR.
Veoh even took the pre-emptive step of recently suing Universal
Music to bar it from taking legal action against Veoh. Many
content providers would prefer its material to be shown on its
own platform, where it controls the surrounding advertising.
"For the consumer to try to figure out where to find video that
they're interested in and navigate their interfaces becomes
extremely difficult," said Shapiro.
The Internet and television are increasingly being portrayed as
on a collision course, the two destined to fuse within 10-20
years when TV could become just another form of high-speed data.
But those visions remain relatively far in the future. Online
video is still in its infancy, Shapiro said.
"People are just starting to discover it and understand it,"
Joost, Babelgum and Veoh have several heavyweights to compete
with, including Microsoft's LiveStation, Apple TV and the
recently unveiled Hulu, a joint venture of NBC Universal and
The analyst McQuivey doubts YouTube should be worried because
its interactivity has "created a social kind of viewing."
Joost, in particular, hopes to accomplish something that
similarly fosters discussion among viewers. Volpi says Joost
will blend the viewing experience with real-time water-cooler
Joost plans to become available to the public before the end of
the year, Babelgum is planning to launch in March, and Shapiro
expects to keep VeohTV in beta no longer than a year from now.
--By JAKE COYLE
AP Entertainment Writer
Aug 30, 6:19 PM EDT