Possibilities (2007)


October 5, 2007 at 11 AM

The New TV

I’ve got Game 1 of the Major League Baseball playoffs between the Angels and the Red Sox playing on my other screen, thanks to Joost. (Shh, don’t tell me what happened.)

Joost is the new hot thing and it’s easy to see why: they’re the first company that has figured out that 90% of the appeal of TV is that it’s easy. Joost is easy too: you turn it on, pick a channel or program, and watch. Sound familiar? It’s a stand-alone application (you download it and run it from your desktop) that runs full-screen by default, which takes away one of the major annoyances of most Internet video — the fact that it’s usually embedded in a tiny box surrounded by a distracting and ugly web site. And it’s not just one web site. Sometimes you just want to watch TV, but surfing around to lots of different sites and clicking links isn’t like watching TV. It isn’t easy.

Joost has some good content. Living in the UK, I’ve missed watching baseball games. But even if I could watch them live, I wouldn’t do it because of the time difference, so getting a game on-demand the next day works great for me. Joost also has a surprising selection of classic movies from Paramount (Chinatown for instance), and some great cartoons (like a collection from Aardman Animations, of Wallace and Gromit fame). None of the latest American or British hit series are there, of course, but I figure that will change once TV networks see that this model works. And it should work.

I don’t have a TV in my home. This wasn’t any big decision of principal — I like TV — but we don’t have a lot of space and I spent some good money on a nice monitor. We watch movies on my laptop (connected to the big monitor and to the stereo) and the quality is excellent. Joost is perfect for me.

The iTunes store has good content too, of course, and has the hit series, but the cost is ludicrous. It’s amazing to me, really, that TV owners are willing to pay $2 to watch an episode of something they can watch on their TV for free. We had a good deal with TV — advertisers pay for the content and we pay the advertisers — but the iTunes Store is trying to break that. You don’t own a TV, I hear you saying, and you’re right, but I still would never pay so much for a single episode. When I add up the cost, I’d rather just wait for the DVD.

Joost’s model includes pop-up advertising that appears in the corner while you watch. There are also ads that interrupt the programming from time to time, but only one at a time. It’s effective and fair. I would also consider paying a subscription fee (for better content) — like paying for cable or HBO. What I won’t do is pay for one episode of some TV show I will only ever watch once.

The reason this should be the future is that it’s on-demand — you pick when you want to watch, not the network. (This is why people like Tivo, but the TV networks have made life difficult for Tivo.) Removing the pressure of scheduling should make it possible for a greater variety of good content. The market can decide for itself what is worth watching and what isn’t. A great cult series no longer needs to compete for a Thursday night audience because the audience can watch all the shows they like, in any order, whenever they want. This model is also relatively piracy-proof — although I’m sure I could figure out a way to record the stuff I’m watching on Joost, it wouldn’t be as easy as simply watching Joost, and in any case the picture quality, like regular TV, isn’t that great anyway that I’d want to keep this stuff.

The entertainment industry has shown its ignorance and short-sighted perspective so often when it comes to the Internet that it’s almost jaw-dropping when someone finally gets it right. Can you hear me NBC? I will watch if you put your shows on Joost. You will earn money from advertising just like you do on broadcast TV. I will even consider paying a subscription. Take my money!

Joost is available for Mac and Windows, and is now in public beta. Download away.