Seeing Niklas Zennstrom’s name on LeWeb’s list of speakers along with the news that Joost’s assets were being acquired by Adconion Media Group got me thinking about the dynamics of that specific startup. Joost was founded in 2006 to build a online video portal with the core idea that legal video streaming would be more efficient if it was built on peer-to-peer technology. The company signed content licensing agreements with major media companies, they had major funding ($45M), 150 software developers and experienced founders/entrepreneurs (Zennstrom and Janus Friis) who had had major successes with Kazaa and Skype. It seemed they would be successful once again.
It didn’t happen. Why? CNET explains that their technology choice of a downloadable application certainly impaired their chance of success. The arrival of Hulu, a big hit with users, also didn’t help but I was specifically struck by this other reason: “Some of the big-name content partners seemed to be putting in a halfhearted effort with Joost, offering up reruns and esoteric programs instead of the new programming that people actually wanted to watch”. Hmmm…
Think about Kazaa and Skype. What did Zennstrom and Friis successfully achieve with these new initiatives? They directly attacked major players in large mature markets using industry weak points. Kazaa was an assault on the music industry, Skype took on telcos. They didn’t say “let’s work with these guys”. They just did it and leveraged the fact that these two industries were very profitable and slow to innovate. They foresaw the disruptive impact of technology and created a lot of value for their shareholders. Venture capital firms usually love these startups. When they created Joost, they changed their entrepreneur paradigm and it failed. Zennstrom and Friis’ new startup Rdio is in the online music space and it looks like they’re going to be working with the music industry. Will it impair their chance of success or has the music industry matured enough in the last 10 years to embrace innovation?
It got me thinking about newspapers, directory publishers, the movie industry, radio, magazines, and other traditional media companies. At one point or another, all these industries (who generate or used to generate fat profit margins) fought technology and we’re slow to innovate. I think it’s getting better (still not fast enough in my own opinion) but I was reminded it is still very slow in Canada by this blog post (in French) written by Yannick Manuri. He says that 40% of all online advertising spent in the country benefited foreign media companies and anecdotally he doesn’t see the sense of urgency in Canadian media companies. It’s a reality in other countries as well.
Why do we need industry disruptors to stimulate innovation in media? Couldn’t it happen by itself?