The news that Joost is scaling back its plans for world domination to focus on developing white label services is not a surprise. But it is a marker of sorts, given that back in the day Joost was a poster boy for a new kind of mid-form online video destination that would flourish in the perceived gap between YouTube, with its skateboarding cats and ad-unfriendly farting fratboys, and the old media dinosaurs wedded to distributing their prized content on TV. Sadly, the game moved on.
So what lessons can be learnt from Joost’s experience? First of all, it took the wrong decision by asking users to download client software. As iPlayer discovered in 2008, users want streaming: it turned out the appeal of YouTube wasn’t just the content, it was the instant click and play experience. Joost changed to a streaming model – eventually – but too late to engage the audiences who had already discovered iPlayer and Hulu.
The media business is still about content, and those who have spent millions of dollars creating and acquiring it are not inclined to let someone else distribute it online. The likes of ABC, NBC/Fox and the BBC (as well as smaller brands) built their own online video platforms to deliver content direct to consumers. At the other end of the spectrum, YouTube started to clean up its act while experimenting with longer-form content. Joost got squeezed out.
But it was mainly about the C word – Content. Joost just couldn’t get the content users wanted, so they couldn’t get a scaleable audience, which mean they couldn’t afford the content, and so on. They struggled to persuade rights holders to give them the killer content brands users wanted, and clearly found the world of international rights to be a circle of hell. To which older heads in the media business might have said, welcome to our world.