NEW YORK Joost, the mega-hyped, well-funded but infrequently viewed Internet TV startup, is taking a page from Facebook and other social networking properties' playbooks as it attempts to reboot its inert business.
The company will unveil the beta version of its long-rumored Web-based version today with a host of social media-ready features, as executives bet on community-driven viewing as a way to differentiate the video hub from well-received upstarts like Hulu. At the center of the new Joost.com is JoostFeed, which much like Facebook's signature News Feed alerts users about shows their friends are watching or have recently watched -- hopefully stimulating group viewing and more "I didn't know they had that show" moments.
Like many other social networking sites, users can create personal profiles on Joost, though its registration requirements have been designed to be less than demanding, said officials.
Once registered, users can instantly link up with their previously established circles of friends by linking to platforms like Gmail and AOL Instant Messenger -- which should accelerate the size of Joost's own network.
To date, Joost's network has been relatively small since its May 2007 launch, even as online video viewership has continued to grow exponentially. (Executives say Joost has reached under 1 million users globally and roughly 400,000 in the U.S.)
That's primarily due to the fact that Joost required users to install a heavy piece of software -- necessitating restarting their computers -- which turned out to be a lot to ask in a click-and-play YouTube world. The new site will initially require a smaller plug-in, but after a month or so, it will be entirely Flash based, much like YouTube.
While that should make Joost more palatable, CEO Mike Volpi believes it is the site's new audience-participation offerings which will provide a major point of differentiation in the still evolving online video space.
"Right now, Internet TV viewing is very solitary," he said. "This allows you to share your experience. As a user it filters content for you. It makes it super easy to share...you don't even have to e-mail anyone."
Greg Clayman, MTV Networks' evp of digital distribution and business development, thinks that the new Joost is different enough to succeed and thrive this time around.
"It's Web based, so it's a lot easier to use," he said. "It's cleaner and looks a lot better. But it's the social networking part that we love. This is a new way of watching online video. We like it as a discovery vehicle."
There's a lot more to discover, as Joost now houses 35,000 shows and continues to add content partners even as its momentum has slowed. For the revamped site, the company has added over 30 Warner Bros. series, including NBC's '90s smash Friends, as well as longtime WB staple Gilmore Girls and recent Fox teen hit The O.C.