Forget about the boob tube. Places to watch TV on the internet are proliferating, from NBC Universal and News Corp.'s Hulu to Joost — a site relaunching itself Tuesday to offer a more interactive experience.
Joost's relaunch, which will let users watch shows like Friends or The Daily Show directly on the web, comes as YouTube also is beginning to offer full-length, commercial-supported television shows in addition to the shorter clips it's best known for.
Previously, Joost users had to download the site's free software to be able to watch its programming, but the step was cumbersome. Now the company is scrapping its original setup in favour of Flash video, which has long been used by Hulu, YouTube and other sites.
Joost chief executive officer Mike Volpi said the site's social features have also been enhanced. People can see what their friends are watching on Joost and create groups around TV shows, characters or artists. Users will also be able to post a news feed of their and their friends' activities on Joost to other websites, such as social networks like Facebook.
"In order to really enhance the viewing experience and differentiate the internet from TV, you can't just regurgitate TV," Volpi said. "You have to engage the community. Ultimately, the internet is about community-building."
Still, without content, the community won't have a whole lot to talk about, so Joost is also expanding its library of TV shows, movies and music videos. The company — which was started by the creators of Skype and the music-sharing service Kazaa — has more than 46,000 professionally produced videos from the likes of CBS Corp. and Viacom Inc. It plans to show the full lineup of fall shows from CBS.
Google Inc.-owned YouTube, meanwhile, is adding full-length shows such as Beverly Hills 90210 and MacGyver, as well as Showtime's Californication and serial killer drama Dexter, to watch on its "Theater View" player.
Jordan Hoffner, YouTube's director of content partnerships, said the market for long-format videos on the web is growing, as is the amount of content available.
Showing full-length shows could also help YouTube attract more advertisers who want to target its massive audience. The site draws 100 million people a month in the U.S. alone, but so far YouTube has not been able to capitalize on this as much as some investors had hoped.
Audience numbers soar
James McQuivey, a media technology analyst at Forrester Research, estimates that by the end of the year, between 45 per cent and 50 per cent of the roughly 117 million people over 13 who watch videos online will watch full-length shows. At the beginning of the year, about 24 per cent did.
It is estimated that companies will spend about $989 million US this year to advertise in online videos. — Forrester Research
Advertisers are also catching on. Forrester estimates that companies will spend about $989 million US this year to advertise in online videos. This is a big jump from the $471 million they spent last year, especially considering the economic crisis that's squeezing advertising budgets.
But because the online video market is in its infancy, advertisers still have a lot to learn. McQuivey thinks commercials for video on the web should be shorter and more interactive than regular 30-second TV spots.
"The ads are all wrong right now," McQuivey said. "Now we are just seeing TV ads that have been repurposed [for the internet]."
In any case, expect online video to start coming with more ads than it traditionally has.
"We'll see if they can pull that off without viewers getting upset," McQuivey said.