Inside The Venice Project & Exclusive Screen Shots

Ever since we interviewed Janus Friis, the co-founder of Skype about The Venice Project, his latest start-up that plans to use peer-to-peer technology to disrupt the television industry, we have been intrigued and have been dying to get a look at the service.

theveniceproject.gifEven though they have launched a beta program, an invite to the service hasn’t been forthcoming. Like a lot of you who left a comment in response to a previous post, looking for an invite, we don’t have one either. But that didn’t stop us from trying to get a peek at the service, and now we have, thanks to some well-placed friends who were willing to share their exclusive access for exactly 30 minutes. What follows is a firsthand look at the Venice Project and what we found inside the most awaited new application on planet broadband.

venicesetup1.gifAfter you log into the service you are taken to a download page, where you can download the latest build. For now, The Venice Project works exclusively on Windows XP Service Pack 2 edition. It takes less than a minute to download on a decent cable or DSL connection, and the install is pretty straightforward.

venicesetup2.gifIn fact, I would venture to say that it is as simple to install the Venice Project software as Skype, which shouldn’t come as a surprise given Janus’ obsession with usability. The installation consumes about 250 MB per hour, the company says, which makes it one of the true broadband applications. I wonder what the incumbent service providers will have to say about this! But that’s a topic of discussion for another day. Once you install, I recommend that you reboot, though the service doesn’t require you to do so.

Post reboot, you are good to go. Double click on the icon that sits on your desktop (or in the dock) and that’s it, you are taken to a start screen, which shows some of the default channel options, staff picks and all that beta stuff. I am going to let the screenshots speak for themselves, instead of trying to explain what it looks like and how it all works.

Let’s talk instead about the service in general. I had heard from a lot of people who were lukewarm on the offering and were not impressed by the photo quality. I am not sure what happened, but those problems have been fixed. The visuals on a Lenovo T60 with a 15.2-inch screen were stunning and crisp. The streams came through without a problem and there was very little jitter. Still, no point hooking it up to a big screen TV… just yet! There isn’t LIVE TV content on the service right now and most of what is there consists of meager offerings streaming off the Venice Project servers. So you can’t truly judge how good this service will be when it comes to “live” broadcasts just yet.

There was a noticeable lag in switching channels, or between different menu choices. But as I said, these will go away with time. Setting up “my channels” was fairly simple. You just double-click and keep adding channels (or programs) you want to watch. Removing them was equally simple. It is very “dummy proof” and they have done a good job of organizing the service in a way that you can visually navigate without reading a manual.

I also liked that there are a lot of social elements built into the service. There is a “plugins” feature but not much there except the chat. You can chat with your buddies, or you can set up a “program or channel specific” chat network. I am guessing this is where a lot of innovation is going to come.

So how does this stack-up against say a Skype or Kazaa, the two previous startups that were a Janus & Niklas co-production? I think from a disruptive standpoint, it is right up there with those two. Free Phone Calls, Free Music… Free Television… pretty easy to understand the unique selling proposition.

However, unlike Skype which had “forced viral distribution” built into its business model, this one needs content… a lot of quality content. Large media companies, globally, would like to get their pound of flesh from the Venice Project (now that the Skype boys are all rich, they can pay right!). The technology certainly works, and for content providers – say the Disney and Viacoms of the world – this is a pretty good thing. It frees them up from the carriage providers and gives them a global audience.

I saw some clips with ads embedded in them, and they worked just like plain old television. With a more directed audience, and targeted ad distribution platforms such as one from SpotRunner, can turn this into a win-win for everyone. More on this when we get our official invite.

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