Is Joost headed for the deadpool?

It’s been awhile since I wrote about Joost, but the sudden departure this week of the company’s chief technology officer — which started out amicably and then became a firing — made me want to take a look at the company again. Not that long ago, Joost was the flavour of the month: everyone wanted a beta invite, everyone was talking about how it could revolutionize video, and of course everyone wanted to talk about how Janus Friis and Niklas Zennstrom were going to completely disrupt the TV industry after disrupting both the online music business (with Kazaa) and the phone industry (with Skype).

And then what happened? A bunch of things. But mostly, at least as far as I’m concerned, the network failed to come up with enough compelling reasons to download and install the software, as I wrote here. There was some interesting programming, but not a huge amount. The app was cool enough to use and there were some interesting features — such as the ability to chat about a show while watching it — but nothing that was a must-have. Many of the users I spoke to said they eventually stopped using it and went back to watching TV on the web.

So what is really going on at Joost? I have no way of knowing, but when you have to fire your CTO, that doesn’t send a great message. Maybe it’s because of how Dirk-Willem van Gulik left, and how quickly he wound up going to work at BBC, I don’t know. But this commenter on the NewTeeVee post — who claims to be an insider at Joost — says that things are not going well: “The mood is very bad inside the company, money is running out fast, the cash burn is of course way way too high, and so there is a lot of nervousness. Honestly, I think they are dead.”

So is Joost headed for the deadpool? Mike Butcher at TechCrunch UK says he doesn’t think it will last the year. Apart from the news today that the network has added Star Trek to the service (which should have happened right after launch, let’s be honest), there hasn’t been much news out of Joost for months. That’s not usually a good sign.

Further reading:

NewTeeVee has some suggestions for what Joost can do to build some more traction, including getting more content from Hulu, building a Web version and putting Joost on the Wii. Andrew Baron of Rocketboom says that Joost was doomed from the start, for a variety of reasons. And ParisLemon — a longtime fan — has some thoughts about Joost as well.

eBay waves wand, Skype value disappears

Well, now it’s official: Skype turns out not to be worth the $4.1-billion that eBay seemed to think it was back in 2005. As Henry Blodget notes at Silicon Alley Insider, the $1.4-billion writedown that the online auction company just announced effectively recognizes what everyone else has known for some time: Skype may or may not have been a mistake (I would argue it was, although Ash Karbasfrooshan disagrees), but one thing is for sure — eBay paid way too much for it.

In true contrarian fashion, my friend Paul Kedrosky says that all the breast-beating about eBay overpaying for Skype is overdone:

“Ebay is still motoring along, and this is lots of reason to be optimistic about the auction company’s future.

Over-focusing on the lamentable (and long past) Skype deal strikes me as a mistake.”

As I said in a comment on Paul’s post, I disagree. eBay may very well be motoring along, but the purchase of Skype was an error in judgment, and a fairly expensive one at that. I realize that a $1.4-billion writedown is small beer for eBay, but the fact that the company made such a decision — without any compelling synergies or anything else to justify the price — speaks volumes about the leadership of the company as far as I’m concerned (as usual, John Paczkowski has the best headline).

It’s nice for Niklas Zennstrom and Janus Friis that they not only get a big chunk of that $530-million earnout, but they can now get on with their lives (and with Joost, which launched as a no-invite-required app today) and quit trying to force some kind of fit between Skype and eBay — a fit I’m willing to bet they never saw either, although Niklas defends the deal in an interview with Thomas Crampton (Janus writes about it here).

As for eBay? Henry thinks they should sell Skype to Yahoo or Microsoft or someone like that, and he might just be right. Jeff Nolan thinks the company should turn it into a backend service-type offering, a la Amazon’s EC2.