New Web sites try to recreate TV experience

NEW YORK – Watching video online in small, fuzzy boxes is heading the way of rabbit ears.

Some highly anticipated Web sites are being modeled on making the experience of watching video online more like watching television.

These sites rely on software that enlarges the interface so that it fills your computer screen – from edge to edge.

This new wave of applications is led by Joost and includes VeohTV and Babelgum. Though all are in beta (testing) phases, the hype has been mounting – leading many to claim the next big advance in online video is imminent.

“The distribution problem is starting to get solved by many different people, but the experience of online video is still very poor,” said Veoh founder Dmitry Shapiro. “Companies like Veoh and Joost are trying to create a more TV-like experience for viewers.”

Of course, YouTube, which Google Inc. bought for $1.76 billion last October, is the site that braved the online video path. Though YouTube offers the option of a full-screen mode, video is typically watched in a smaller box that can be embedded in other sites.

These new sites, all of which are ad-supported and transmit video with peer-to-peer technology, are seeking to move beyond YouTube by improving video quality, attracting professionally produced content and expanding the viewing experience – which is to say: to be more like TV.

Babelgum’s slogan is: “TV experience, Internet substance.” Veoh touts: “VeohTV makes watching Internet as simple as watching television.” Joost simply states: “The new way of watching TV.”

Each of the three work nearly the same way. You download the application from the respective Web site. When that’s finished, you have a desktop icon that will launch the application. It then fills your screen with an on-demand-style choice of videos arranged in near broadcast-quality channels.

Joost – founded by Janus Friis and Niklas Zennstrom (the founders of the Internet telephone company Skype and the music-sharing service Kazaa) – says it has created enough buzz to attract 1 million beta users.

Joost’s strategy has been to sign deals with major content providers, making copyright lawsuits unlikely. (YouTube, on the other hand, is being sued by Viacom Inc. for more than $1 billion.) It has inked deals with Viacom, CBS, CNN, the NHL, Sony and others.

“The early stages of video content on the Internet was a lot of user-generated stuff, stuff like my grandmother and her cat,” said Joost chief executive officer Mike Volpi.

“What we’re trying to do is evolve that experience into something that the viewer doesn’t view just out of interest, but actually builds an affinity with that particular programming content.”