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Joost Faces Uphill Battle

Skype’s founders hope to bring IPTV to your laptop, but copyright issues loom.
January 19, 2007

Songs were on peer-to-peer networks long before the music industry found a way to sell them online. What ensued in the two years between the release of Napster and the launch of Apple’s iTunes was nothing short of a virtual bazaar, with users swapping hundreds of millions of MP3 files.

Since then, the entertainment industry has been reluctant to move quickly into cyberspace. And that’s what makes Joost both exciting and depressing.

Joost, introduced by Skype earlier this week, is a technological solution to delivering television over the Internet.

According to ZDNet:

The plan, according to Joost CEO Fredrik de Wahl, is to offer studios, cable stations and anyone else who wants to distribute high-quality video over the Internet, a fast, efficient and cheap distribution method. To do this, the company will rely on the peer-to-peer technology that helped Friis and Zennström build Skype and Kazaa.

There are a host of problems, of course. The biggest is the copyright issue. For years, the entertainment industries have been reluctant to work with anyone who participated in the peer-to-peer file-sharing world. Niklas Zennström is one of those guys.

However, a good technical solution for delivering television over the Internet could help some executives look the other way, where they would see another copyright issue.

Here is the scenario:

Cable companies have the ability to deliver all television on demand. They have the ability to offer every show. The problem that arises: there is a debate between the cable companies and the content industries regarding who owns media in digital storage. The cable companies would need to keep the television programs in a centralized storage area to be delivered to residents whenever they choose a show.

This creates a virtual locker. Still, when it comes to negotiating those rights, it’s likely that the content and cable industries can get together. But it’s still a hurdle.

Where it gets sticky–and it’s sticky because there aren’t big pockets to negotiate rights–is the delivery of the video. That creates two distinct issues: it requires a distributed network of users, and those users then need to deliver a cached stream to users’ hard drives (even if that cache would come in short bursts, which is much harder to capture). At any point along that distribution trail, no matter how secure the data is, users will have the ability to snatch television.

Which isn’t to say that Joost won’t become a rousing success as network executives experiment with IPTV. There are scads of people who believe Joost will change the TV as we know it.

I’m just not too excited yet.