Here Comes the Video Shakeout: Joost Scales Down, CEO Mike Volpi Steps Out
Here’s the beginning of the inevitable online video shakeout: Joost, the once-hyped video service that was supposed to rival Google’s (GOOG) YouTube, is restructuring to focus on “white label” services, i.e., a back end for other video players.
The service is laying off the majority of its employees, and CEO Mike Volpi (pictured right) is out, replaced by Matt Zelesko, who had been SVP of engineering. The Joost.com portal site will stay open, but best to think of it as an ad for the company’s hosting and distribution services, which it will try to sell to cable companies and the like.
A Joost spokesperson declined to say how deep the layoffs will be; but I’m told that the company, which had more than 100 employees last fall, will be down to a couple dozen after the cuts are done. In a post on Joost’s Web site, Volpi said the company “will say goodbye to many of our colleagues and friends.”
This isn’t a shock: Joost’s fate has been the subject of whisper and rumors for the last year or more. The service made an initial splash in 2007 by raising $45 million from the founders of Skype and an array of high-profile investors and media companies, including Sequoia Capital and Viacom (VIA), and was initially supposed to deliver copyrighted content via a peer-to-peer distribution system and a player that users downloaded to their desktops.
But YouTube, and later Hulu, conditioned users to watch video via their browsers, and Joost’s software never caught on. By last fall, the company had retooled and began offering video via the browser like everyone else, but it has never been able to generate a significant audience. In November, a month after the company launched its Web browser, it said it was attracting 2.1 million unique users world-wide, a fraction of YouTube’s audience, and well behind rivals like Hulu, MetaCafe, Veoh and DailyMotion.
Here’s the service’s unique visitor count, per Comscore (SCOR); Joost’s unique viewer count, which is the more relevant metric for video sites, is considerably smaller (click to enlarge):
Joost has been a frequent candidate for buyout rumors, and the company hasn’t gone out of its way to deny them. The supposed buyers would be cable companies like Comcast (CMCSA) Time Warner Cable (TWC) or telcos like AT&T (T) and Verizon (VZ), which would presumably use Joost’s technical team to help build out their own Web video plays.
But some of the cable guys and telcos insist that they’re fine with the people they have. And if they do want to buy a video player, they have plenty of options: Just about all of Joost’s peers have been on the block, formally or informally, for the past few months.
JOOST TO PROVIDE WHITE LABEL ONLINE VIDEO PLATFORM
NEW YORK AND LONDON – June 30, 2009 – Joost, the online video startup, announced today that, along with Joost.com, it will focus on providing white label online video platforms for media companies, including cable and satellite providers, broadcasters and video aggregators. This technology and service offering will support content owners’ efforts to build comprehensive branded environments online.
Media companies around the world are embracing internet-based video portals as a key path to distribute their premium video, but building a world-class video portal is increasingly difficult and expensive. Joost will focus on this issue and provide the market with a cost-effective, end-to-end solution for media companies to publish video under their own brands.
As a part of this new direction, Joost will reorganize and restructure its business. A core team in New York and London will work on providing these solutions, as well as operating and supporting Joost.com and its associated video applications. Joost also will wind down operations in its Leiden development center.
Matt Zelesko, currently SVP of Engineering at Joost, will take over as CEO while continuing to lead the engineering organization. Stacey Seltzer, currently SVP of international business development and content acquisition at Joost, will run the business operations. Mike Volpi has stepped down as CEO of Joost but will remain actively involved as Chairman of the Board.
Joost plans to make its white label video platform commercially available to media companies around the world. This offering will provide a solution for companies looking to build a branded experience for their content on their own site as well as other sites and platforms in their distribution networks.