Kara Swisher

Recent Posts by Kara Swisher

Kara Visits With Joost's Mike Volpi, Part 1

I like Mike. Volpi, that is, Joost’s new CEO.

volpi

Pictured here, the 40-year-old longtime tech exec is a nice choice to run the moderately hyped online video television site.

But I will admit it–I have not been gung-ho on the prospect of Joost–which I have called a potentially “messy control freak of a service.”

I was teasing, of course, but do have doubts about the company–founded by the well-known geek duo Janus Friis and Niklas Zennström–as being too closed and destination oriented, as well as playing in a very crowded field.

In addition, Joost needs massive amounts of cooperation from the very restrictive mandarins of Hollywood. And we all know the amount of leadership they have brought as all content has gone digital–some sum much less than zero.

By the way, Friis and Zennström are the pair who disrupted the phone industry with Skype and also created the controversial peer-to-peer file-sharing service Kazaa, used by many to illegally download–yes–copyrighted entertainment content.

joost

But now in the age of fear and loathing in Hollywood for Google-owned YouTube comes Joost, which aims to deliver a TV experience on the Web with high-quality professional content by using a special player you download. It is free, supported by advertising.

To do this, Joost nabbed $45 million in funding in May from Silicon Valley’s famed Sequoia Capital (backers of Yahoo, YouTube and Google, among others) and early Skype funder Index Ventures, as well as CBS, Viacom and the wealthy Hong Kong investor Li Ka-shing.

It has struck deals to offer content, using a peer-to-peer technology distribution system, from CBS, as well as Turner and Warner Bros. and Sony. It has also picked up a slate of big-time advertisers like Coca-Cola. Also, unlike television, it also gives users a bunch of interactive options like instant messaging while viewing and news feeds.

So far, Hollywood likes Joost because, hmm, it’s not copyright-defying YouTube.

But the start-up is not alone. For example, NBC Universal and News Corp. will soon launch a new Web video service called Hulu, in a reported $100 million effort. Also, there’s Veoh, backed by former Hollywood bigwigs Michael Eisner and, recently, Tom Freston.

(At least Joost has this going for it–not such a dopey name as those two! In fact, I like the name a lot.)

And it seems as if a new video site pops up constantly, as every traditional content provider tries to figure out a strategy, even as less cooperative techies like YouTube and Apple’s iTunes grow ever more popular.

So what better place to interview Volpi, a longtime Cisco exec (who was considered the heir apparent to CEO and Chairman John Chambers), than on the trendy Asia de Cuba patio at the Mondrian Hotel on Sunset Strip.

While Volpi has the tech cred, he is also pretty smooth for Silicon Valley, possessing a bit of Hollywood style and looking hipper than your average nerd (it’s obviously due to his Italian-born roots).

Well-liked and respected in the tech industry, the mechanical engineering grad from Stanford was raised in Japan, where his journalist mother covered a wide range of issues.

Yesterday in Los Angeles to make the rounds at the studios, trying to explain what Joost will do for them, Volpi talked with me about everything from Joost’s prospects to widgetmania to how you create great online content.

He also insulted me, calling me hyped (that’s the digital pot calling the Web kettle black!).

Here’s the first video with the second posted here:

Please see this disclosure related to me and Google.


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— Kara Swisher and Walt Mossberg, in their farewell D post