Joost fuels ICE panel debate

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TORONTO -- Canada's largest cablecaster on Wednesday questioned just how revolutionary upstart Web TV service Joost will be in changing how people watch and access TV content.

Mike Lee, chief strategy officer at Rogers Communications, told the ICE 2007 new-media conference in Toronto that Joost -- which uses peer-to-peer technology to stream video directly to desktops -- will still be driven by widgets after it launches.

"Joost, for all its genius, is channel up, channel down, sound up, sound down, and is delivered to PCs," Lee told a digital cross-platforming panel that quickly grew into a debate over the transforming possibilities of Joost, the Web video venture from Skype co-founders Niklas Zennstrom and Janus Friis.

"There's no science to it. There may be something behind the cover, or it may be just another way to deliver video to a customer," Lee added.

Other TV executives similarly challenged the prevailing notion that Joost will pose less of a threat to YouTube and rival Web TV services than it will undermine local cable and free-to-air TV providers.

Maria Hale, vp content business development at Canadian broadcaster Chum -- which recently inked a deal to distribute its content on Joost -- cautioned that the Web TV service was still in an early stage.

But Hale insisted that distributing her network's MuchMusic-branded content on Joost, and sharing advertising revenue, held out great promise for Chum.

That said, TV watching should not suffer greatly after Joost comes on stream, Hale insisted.

"We did the partnership to promote the MuchMusic brand. This is a great way to showcase MuchMusic to the global audience," she said. "But domestically, people will continue watching TV stations. It's a better experience."

Hale insisted that Joost and other Web TV services will only revolutionize TV viewing when they can duplicate on the computer the experience TV viewers now get from larger screens in their living rooms.

"Maybe there's more under the blanket. But Joost won't replace television," she said.

Shel Israel, a U.S.-based new-media writer and business blogging expert, agreed that Joost won't put broadcasters and cablecasters out of business but insisted it will revolutionize TV viewing by making Web TV technology user friendly.

"Joost itself isn't important. But it has taken the world where it hasn't gone before. The implications are enormous," Israel said.

The ICE conference runs through Thursday.
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