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Skype founders take TV to Net

Joost, an Internet-based television service created by the cofounders of Skype, will initially focus on making it easier and more fun to watch TV on a computer. (JOOST, HO via Associated Press)

AMSTERDAM, Netherlands -- The cofounders of the Internet telephone service Skype unveiled the brand name and details of their latest project yesterday : a new Internet-based television service called Joost.

Entrepreneurs Niklas Zennstrom and Janus Friis, who sold Skype for $2.6 billion to eBay Inc. in 2005, said the new project combines aspects of file-sharing software and regular broadcast television.

Joost -- pronounced "juiced" -- may eventually try to move onto television sets, but it will initially focus on making it easier and more fun to watch TV on a computer.

Joost, like Skype, requires users to download free software. In this case, the program will help them browse the Internet for channels and clips they're interested in, rather than make phone calls.

"We're currently in a test phase with a limited 'beta' release, so we have content matching our base," chief executive Fredrik de Wahl said in a telephone interview. "Comedy, sports, music, documentaries."

He said the company has deals with Warner Music, "Bridezillas" producer September Films, and "Big Brother" creator Endemol NV, among others, but plans to make content deals globally.

Joost is owned by Luxembourg-based TVP Holdings SA, but it has offices in New York, London, and Leiden, Netherlands, and expects to incorporate under the Joost name.

The Joost browser will be open for other software developers to create their own features. "They may be able to make interactive plug-ins we can't even think of," de Wahl said.

The service will be ad-supported, but advertising will be briefer and less frequent than on regular TV. Viewers will have a broader selection of programming and will be able to watch when they want.

Daiwa Securities telecom analyst James Enck said that Joost's biggest challenge will be competition it faces from a host of rival products and services, but with Zennstrom and Friis behind it, it has to be seen as a serious player.

"I would be tempted to back them as people who will do well," Enck said.

Zennstrom and Friis succeeded under similar circumstances with Skype, and earlier built and sold the file-sharing program Kazaa.

Enck, who has tested Joost, said that at the moment, so-so video quality was a potential problem. But overall, the product is noteworthy for "ease of use, a nice interface, and intuitive design" he said. The same ingredients played a key role in Skype's success.

CEO de Wahl said that unlike the original Kazaa, Joost will be seeking to work with content owners to prevent piracy.

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