Free Online TV: Joost

June 2007

Have a feeling of deja vous? Yes, I did talk about the online availability of movies and TV just two months ago. And here I am again. That’s because so much is happening — especially in the area of free TV.

In short, I’ve seen the future, and it’s Joost. That’s pronounced “juiced.” This is a new service from the same two guys who created Kazaa, one of the original file-sharing services, and Skype, the famous free software for computer-to-computer calls and videoconferencing.

You’d think that that after they sold Skype to eBay for $2.6 million, they rest on their laurels and their bank accounts. But no, they weren’t done. They were confident they could online TV better. And they were right.

Joost is like broadcast TV, with channels and everything, but it comes via the Internet. And like broadcast TV, it’s paid for via ads, but they're much less frequent than regular TV — less than three minutes per hour compared to 16 minutes per hour for regular TV. The ads, of course, allow Joost to be free. Even though it was still in its test phase when I tried it in early May, the content was great. And they’re regularly announcing new deals with content providers.

Joost offers programs in categories such as Entertainment & Film, Comedy, Music, Sports & Games, Documentary & Life Style, and Cartoons & Animation. Channels include National Geographic, Comedy Central, MTV, Classica Channel (classical music), and Saturday Morning TV (programs such as “Rocky & Bullwinkle” and “Mr. Magoo”).

As I write this in early May, Joost has just announced deals with CNN (including programs such as “Larry King Live”), Sony (programs such as “Charlie’s Angels” and “Starsky & Hutch”), and more, in addition to earlier deals with CBS, Viacom, and Warner Music Group.

The quality is quite good, and you can watch the programming full screen. Of course you’ll need a high-speed connection. Plus, like Skype, these guys just know how to make things easy. The interface is clean, simple, and easy to use. You select a category and then scroll through the available channels.

The big question is, Why am I so excited about this? After all, I subscribed to cable TV for years, and would watch at most for a couple hours a month. Often, I’d go for several months without turning on my TV.

The answer is: on-demand TV. I have very specific interests, and the beauty of on-demand TV is that you watch what you want, when you want.

Joost had been available on a very limited basis early in the testing phase, but in May they began making it more widely available, though still using an invitation-only method. You have to be invited by a current user. But that restriction may be gone by the time you read this.

I had to try Joost on someone else’s computer, since the currently available software only runs on the Intel Macintosh. On the Windows side, it requires the latest version of Windows XP. Support for earlier Macs is coming.

All in all, Joost is generating a lot of excitement, and deservedly so.

Also getting notice is Democracy. This free, open-source software is almost as cool as Joost. Whereas Joost offers up programming made for commercial TV, Democracy is a Joost-like software interface that lets you primarily watch video created for the web.

This content includes vidcasts, videos from the megasites like YouTube, and some network TV, like the “NBC Nightly News,” that’s been converted to vidcasts. Some of the programming is even high-definition.

Democracy’s Channel Guide has 21 categories of content, including Arts, Comedy, Music, News, Movies & TV, and Technology. The Movies & TV channel includes an archive of classic movies that are in public domain. The software is wonderfully elegant in the way that it lets you subscribe to a channel and automatically download new episodes. (No streaming — everything is downloaded in the background.) After you’ve watched something, you can click to save or to delete. If you’ve watched it and haven’t saved it, the video will automatically be deleted from your computer after five days — helping you avoid filling up your hard drive.

Democracy also does a great job of organizing this content on your computer. You can even let it catalog the videos that you already have.

I predict you’ll be hearing a lot more about Joost and Democracy. Give one or both a try. After all, they’re free.

© 2007 by Jim Karpen, Ph.D

E-mail Jim Karpen