LONDON The founders of Skype, who pioneered free voice over Internet phone calls using computers, are hoping to repeat the phenomenon with a broadband TV service.
Niklas Zennström and Janus Friis who also established the music-sharing site Kazaa came out of stealth mode Tuesday ( Jan. 16) with what was formerly known as the 'Venice Project', and dubbed the service Joost. They describe the service as "a new way of watching TV on the Internet".
The service, which combines file-sharing software and broadcast television over the Internet, is expected to launch by June and is already undergoing private trials in a number of countries and with several content providers, including companies such as Dutch TV-production group Endemol and Warner Music. Some advertisers such as T-Mobile and chewing gum maker Wrigley are already backing the venture.
The backbone of what is now called Joost is a secure P2P streaming technology that allows content owners to bring TV-quality video and ease of use to a TV audience, though Zennström and Friis stress it is not a file-sharing application or a video download service.
Like other "on-demand" services, Joost will let viewers watch a show when they like and pause and rewind programmes. According to the founders, the main aim is to improve the quality of video content viewed online on sites such as YouTube. The service will be funded through advertising once subscriber numbers have picked up.
Thousands of users have downloaded the Joost software despite the company being in trial phase. As with Skype for VoIP, the free software will allow users to browse the Internet for channels and content clips.
Others involved in Joost include Henrik Werdelin, a leading light of the Venice Project, who will act as executive VP, creative and product development (who was previously VP product development at MTV Networks) and Fredrik de Wahl, who will be CEO. Dirk-Willem van Gulik has been named Joost's CTO.
The company said in under a year working on the Venice project, it gathered "the world's best engineers, web gurus and media visionaries", and that starting from a handful of people, it now employs 150, with offices in five countries. However, it added on its website, which went live Tuesday (Jan.16) : "It is still early days for us, but Joost is getting bigger and better every day - and we're still waiting for it to become self-aware."
Friis and Zennstrom will continue their day jobs at Skype and e-Bay while daily management of Joost is handled by de Wahl. They funded the Venice Project using part of the money from Skype's sale in late September 2005 to e-bay for $2.5 billion.
"People are looking for increased choice and flexibility in their TV experience, while the entertainment industry needs to retain control over their content," said de Wahl.
“We have received positive and constructive feedback from our early beta-testers and are now at a stage where we’re ready to reveal our true brand," he added. "The Joost name has global appeal, embodies fun and energy, and will come to define the best of TV and the best of the internet."
Over time, the aim of the company is to move the Internet service to TV sets where users will access the service through digital IPTV set top boxes. STBs with various operating systems will be offered, and a Linux version of the box is in the works.