Title: Co-founder and executive co-chairman of Joost
Date of birth: June 26, 1976
Place of birth: Denmark
Big break: Though Skype is bigger, Kazaa came first, so Mr. Friis considers that company his first breakthrough.
Who knew?? Mr. Friis enjoys winter sea bathing. "I don't know much about chemistry, but I am told that throwing yourself in icy waters does the same to your brain and your body as sex, marathon running and stuff like that. As I don't run that much, I am left with few options," he said.
Janus Friis keeps pretty good company. As one of the co-founders of Internet TV service Joost, Mr.
Friis, along with partner Niklas Zennstrom, has inked deals with CBS, Viacom, Turner Broadcasting, Warner Bros. Television Group and others.
The duo have crafted an online television service that currently counts more than 700,000 users for the beta version, who can choose from more than 150 channels with programming including cartoons, entertainment, comedy, sports, lifestyle and documentaries.
Joost's lineup also offers niche content from providers such as health information network HealthiNation and green-centric programmer Lime.
In May, Joost landed $45 million in funding from A-list investors including CBS, Viacom and Sequoia Capital.
That investment went a long way toward legitimizing Joost, said James McQuivey, analyst with Forrester Research. "Joost needs partners with content, and partners don't necessarily like to work with guys who tear down institutions, so that legitimizes them and says Joost is about the future and things that are cool and not just tearing down the walls," Mr. McQuivey said.
Add to those deals agreements with 36 brand marketers, including Coca-Cola, Hewlett Packard, Intel and Nike, plus a pact with Creative Artists Agency to secure additional entertainment content for Joost, and you've got a service stuffed with high expectations.
But Mr. Friis and Mr. Zennstrom are entrepreneurial clean-up hitters who are used to hitting the ball out of the park. With their previous two ventures, Kazaa and Skype, they radically changed the music business and the long-distance calling business, respectively.
They founded Joost in January 2006 and launched the beta version of the service late last year. Their pedigree lured early partners. "Lime made the decision to become a charter content partner with Joost (then the Venice Project) largely due to the vision of Janus," said Jim Esposito, Lime's VP of business development and distribution.
To succeed, Joost will need to break consumer habits and become a meaningful alternative to traditional TV. "This goes for all the industries I have worked in," Mr. Friis said. "It's pretty simple. The alternative is not good enough yet. It's not convenient enough. It's not made to fit everyday life. I believe Joost is that alternative, and we will for the next 12 months -- and the next 12 years -- continue to make Joost the best alternative and a first choice for many."
But Joost will face additional challenges, some of its own making. Technical glitches have rankled many beta users, while some analysts have questioned whether consumers are willing to use yet another proprietary software system, when Apple's iTunes is already popular and easy to use. Skype encountered some early glitches, too, but now counts as many as 9 million users at any given moment from a base of 196 million total registered users.
Joost, meanwhile, continues to tweak the service and roll out upgrades every few weeks. The company plans to reach out to consumer electronics makers to bring Joost technology into TV sets and other TV gadgets.
Joost's prospects look good because of the track record of the founders, said Will Richmond, president of broadband research firm Broadband Directions. "They clearly know the Internet distribution game very well. This provides lots of credibility with content providers seeking to capitalize on broadband video's potential. If they execute well, they have as good a chance as anyone to emerge as a bona fide new third-party video competitor."
If that happens, then Mr. Friis believes people will have conversations like this: "Did you see the 'CSI' show last night?" "No, but I will watch it on Joost tonight."