Joost to reach '30s' with VH1

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Joost is getting a little cozier with the TV business through a new partnership with VH1.

The companies are expected to announce this week an unprecedented arrangement in which the Viacom-owned channel will premiere the entire season of its new scripted comedy series "I Hate My 30s" exclusively on the upstart Internet TV service on July 16 — 10 days ahead of the series' broadcast premiere.

For Joost, which was created by the founders of Internet telephone service Skype, the deal marks the next step in advancing its content partnerships, which have been steadily announced during the past few months as the service continues to operate in expanded beta mode. The service has attracted at least 500,000 users, the company said.

"This is exactly the kind of partnership we would like to have with content owners," said Yvette Alberdingk Thijm, executive vp content strategy and acquisition at Joost. "We see this as Phase 2 in creating value with content owners."

Viacom is an investor in Joost, having joined the likes of CBS Corp., Sequoia Capital, the Li Ka-Shing Foundation and Index Ventures in a $45 million round of funding announced in May. Joost announced an overall content partnership with Viacom in February, getting programming from MTV, BET, Comedy Central and Paramount Pictures.

In landing "I Hate My 30s," Joost is elbowing for position among the growing pack of digital platforms such as Apple's iTunes and Microsoft Corp.'s Xbox striking exclusive content deals. For Viacom, the deal indicates the continuation of its digital distribution strategy that involves neither Google's YouTube, which it targeted with a $1 billion lawsuit in February, nor the upcoming joint venture between NBC Universal and News Corp.

Joost also has made deals with Warner Music Group, Turner Broadcasting and Sony Pictures Television and will be part of the CBS Interactive Audience Network set to launch this summer.

"30s" is a half-hour, eight-episode series developed by the MTV Networks unit and comedy troupe Drama 3/4 that focuses on the changes adults go through when they hit 30. This marks the first time VH1 will put an entire season online before its network debut.

MTVN has experimented before with full-season premieres on third-party platforms. In March, iTunes began selling the entire third season of the MTV2 series "The Andy Milonakis Show" for $9.99 a full month before its broadcast airdate (HR 3/20).

Alberdingk Thijm and VH1 executive vp and GM Tom Calderone said that "30s" was the right show to premiere on Joost because, as the show's name implies, it is aimed at adults nearing or just past age 30 — a demographic "sweet spot" for both companies. Calderone said "30s" has a "different voice" than most VH1 programs, with a more sarcastic, cynical tone.

"This is one of those shows that will travel well and get in to the pop-culture ether," Calderone said. "It's a really cool, clever show, and this will get it into the hands of people that can share it and blog about it."

Calderone believes that establishing an early online presence won't take eyeballs away from the TV set, in part because his network has had a good amount of success with online programming and promotions. Last year, VH1 premiered the debut episodes of "The Surreal Life" and "Hogan Knows Best" on its Web site before those shows' broadcast premieres.

"The couple of times we've done it, it creates a lot of buzz," he said. "We don't do it all the time. We want to pick the right shows."

Both companies also see this as a deepening of their relationship, which could lead to more deals. "It's going to be fun," Calderone said. "We're both learning together, which is definitely a positive."

"30s" will run with advertising on Joost. The premiere episode also will get sneak peeks on VH1.com as well as the channel's mobile and VOD offerings.

Alberdingk Thijm also noted that Joost is in discussions with its other partners about similar promotions.

"We see the platform as being extremely capable of doing customized targeted promotions," she said. "We're working with a number of our launch partners right now to create this added value."
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