"So long, velvet rope," reads the Joost homepage. The longtime invitation-only beta -- which didn't seem all that exclusive by the time the company had invited its millionth user back in July -- is over. Anyone up for a simple download can now experience the slick channel-streaming experience that most of us have been enjoying for months.
Joost is pretty cool. It's the kind of application that makes you long for a larger monitor, with impressive streaming quality and a collection of 15,000 shows -- and growing -- to choose from.
Sure, the timing of the ribbon-cutting could have been better. Joost is going into public beta just as video content addicts are flocking back to their couches to catch the season premieres of their favorite shows. In an ideal world, Joost would have opened up the floodgates earlier, when reruns and second-tier reality shows would have sent more than the million registered users flocking to the site for something fresh.
At least it didn't wait even longer to go live and really sink its chances. With News Corp. (NYSE: NWS ) and General Electric's (NYSE: GE ) NBC Universal supposedly now just weeks away from launching Hulu.com, Joost's launch would have been buried in the headlines.
This doesn't mean that Joost doesn't have friends in high places. The company is a partner with several major content providers like CBS (NYSE: CBS ) and Viacom (NYSE: VIA ) . Landing Viacom was a newsworthy grab, as it came just as Viacom was suing Google's (Nasdaq: GOOG ) YouTube for not protecting the media giant from unauthorized uploads. The move vindicated Joost as a video site that was willing to play by the content-creating networks' rules.
Now comes the real test for Joost. It's a free ad-supported model; will consumers put up with as many ads as necessary to make it a profitable company? Will the networks eventually back away from third-party distributors to have a closer relationship with fans of their biggest shows?
Don't assume that anyone has the answer, because consumers can be finicky, even when they're consuming free content. With so many websites vying for audiences, they can't all survive.
The velvet rope's gone, but so are the kid gloves.
Other boosts for Joost: