The Venice Project – early thoughts

SkypeFounders 

I got an email this weekend (along with many of you, I’m sure) announcing that the Venice Project has entered its public beta phase.  For those of you that don’t know the Venice Project is the latest venture from the founders of Skype and has been a stealth mode TV over the internet project for some months now.  They are rumoured to have employed hundreds of people, principally in New York, but also in many other geographies.

If you are a regular reader of this blog you will know that I have more than a passing interest in this space, so I’m curious to understand the significance of this venture.

The whole project is shrouded in secrecy with participants in the private beta signing non-disclosure agreements, so there isn’t much info out there.  I think there is enough info to scrape together some early thoughts and observations though.

  • They are following ICQ and GMail in what is becoming a standard approach to viral marketing – make it a little mysterious, limit participation in the beta to invitation only, have existing beta participants invite their friends and create an impression that there is exclusivity in being part of the beta programme
  • The service combines P2P delivery with legitimate content deals – so there won’t be any Napster style difficulties with copyright (rumour has it that the public beta launch is behind schedule because the content deals have taken a long time to pull together).  The service includes social features, like chat and ratings
  • They are going into public beta early with a service that still has glitches – I aplaud this move, it shows courage and confidence in the revolutionary nature of what is on offer
  • Coverage on the web is mixed so far (although very early days).  This report on Webtvwire says the GUI is poor which could be a killer and video is stuttery, informitv is more positive, (although they admit to having signed an NDA)

 

Zennstrom and Friis have fantastic pedigree across two really successful companies and I’m sure what I’m about to say won’t be news to them.  To me P2P delivery is interesting, but the really exciting play is in the service level, and a few things seem to be missing.  At this stage I should say that I haven’t participated in the beta – so anyone who has direct experience of the service (and can share) please chip in.  And if anyone wants to invite me…..

Firstly – I don’t think a service based on content deals is the right way to go, long term.  This is a walled garden approach.  Music has shown us that content should be separated from distribution.  Right now an integrated service might be the best way to get something started though.

Secondly – search on the service is limited to stuff you have watched – that seems almost crippling to me.

Thirdly – the social elements of the service are great, but they are missing the aggregator/fileter piece that is critical for the long tail.  This is one of the things that makes internet TV interesting to me.   

As an example, a friend of mine has invested in an internet TV channel dedicated to cycling Cycling TV – aggregating niche audiences worldwide to find critical mass in a way that is impossible over traditional TV distribution infrastructure – you couldn’t find this on the Venice Project with its walled garden approach and limited search – yet this sort of thing is a large part of the promise of internet TV.

This is a screenshot from the service:

VeniceProjectScreenShot