@ Mipcom Interview: Danny Passman, Head Of Programming, Joost: ‘We’ve Learned From Our Mistakes’

imageJoost has been robustly criticized since its 2007 launch, in part for lacking decent content. The man in that firing line, Danny Passman, sympathizes with many of the concerns – nay, he echoes them and is in full-on repent mode for some moves he admits were missteps – but, Passman says, things are about to change…
“The old Joost was, ‘let’s just put the beta invite on Silicon Alley Insider and call it a day’,” Passman told paidContent.org. “When I first started, I don’t think we maximized the relationships we had with studios and the labels. The content discovery was undiscoverable. There was a barrier-to-entry to the site. The other mistake that maybe Joost had made was the focus on long-form.”
Hairshirt aside, now “I feel like we’ve learned from our mistakes” and a “re-education campaign” is starting. Speaking on a sunny seaside promenade during Mipcom in Cannes, Passman draws a clear line between “old Joost” (the sins of the past) and “new Joost”, the overhaul began when a shakeup brought him from Dailymotion and new engineering VP Matt Zelesko from Comcast (NSDQ: CMCSA) earlier this year.
The result: the long-awaited Flash version unveiled here today includes plenty of sharing features and an activity stream designed for inclusion on social sites – a feature that could attract new eyeballs. A big on- and offline marketing campaign will now begin, Hulu-like embeddability will come in the next update and Passman is most keen to find that holy grail of original content. But a spokesperson ruled out need for more VC funds right now.
CBS’ (NYSE: CBS) Hulu?: With CBS holding out on Hulu in favor of YouTube and Passman’s site, in which it is an investor, the relationship between the two is one to watch. The network is “a great partner of ours”, Passman said, this month supplying its clip of John McCain’s Letterman no-show and saying “here you go, go promote it”. “They go above and beyond most of the other partners. They go, ‘we’re handing you this, the reason why it’s relevant is X/Y/Z – if you’d like to promote it, you can promote it this way’; they’ve figured it out, they’re very strategic. As we show them that we can build an audience around their content, I’m sure they’ll give us more and more exclusive things.” So can we consider Joost CBS’ Hulu, against the NBC-News Corp (NYSE: NWS) site? Not exactly – CBS distributes to over 400 partners, Passman said.
Closer to producers and programs: “It kills me that people (criticize us) because we have such great content.” “When I first started … the first thing I did was to pinpoint the content owners that I felt would drive viewers … understanding the content we’re creating, not just slapping something up because it was on TV last night. Whereas the site used to be a hodge-podge of random classifications, it’s very easy now to discover content. (Critics are) basing off the old client … there was so much content being ingested, there wasn’t a proper hierarchy to find that content. There also was no promotion areas and was sort of a disconnect between the website and the downloadable client.”
Long vs. snackable: On the early penchant for long-form: “You need to have a mix of types of content … if (some clips) were over a minute long, I wouldn’t watch ’em. You need content that, if I sent it to you, you can watch really fast and be like ‘I wanna go back to that site, it’s cool’ – and I don’t think you can do that with a two-hour documentary of manatees.”
The move to browser-based: It’s not just about Flash but about the social sharing features; the idea being, those who see a Joost user’s JoostFeed on, say, Facebook or FriendFeed might be inclined to try Joost themselves. And the departure from the desktop app is also prompting Joost to engage in search engine marketing and optimization, to bring folk to its new web pages. A marketing effort will include “reaching out to niche communities about the content we have, not necessarily telling the story of Joost a thousand times” – another nod to the past.
Hulu envy? “It’s a very different offering – it’s catch-up TV for two major studios. We also have a huge music following that they don’t have, we are global, have Turner and Warner Bros. It’s the difference between eating pretzels and potato chips – I’m pretzels.”