Skype founders to offer web TV

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The founders of Skype are close to launching a global broadband television service promising viewers, content owners and advertisers “the best of the internet with the best of TV”.

Janus Friis and Niklas Zennström, who sold their online telephony business to Ebay for $2.6bn last year, have invested part of the proceeds in developing the service, which has the codename The Venice Project. It will offer “near high-definition”, programmes supported by advertising, with tools for users to personalise their channels or discuss programmes with others.

Mr Friis said peer-to-peer technology used by the service, which exploits networks of personal computers rather than central servers, would make it possible to serve “tens of millions of users” while overcoming content owners’ security concerns. Programmes would not require digital rights management protection, said Fredrik de Wahl, the project’s chief executive, because “the bits and bytes being collected on your computer are fragments of a stream”.

The service is expected to launch next year and is being tested by about 6,000 individuals, Mr Friis said. At present, it has attracted few big-name channels, and the company would not disclose its partners, but one person close to Warner Music confirmed it was using the service to create channels for some of its artists, including Paris Hilton.

Mr Friis said he hoped to provide outlets for traditional broadcasters, independent producers who struggle to reach a global audience, national broadcasters wanting to reach expatriate audiences and entertainment companies looking for new ways to promote their acts.

Unlike YouTube or video-on-demand services, The Venice Project will offer conventionally programmed channels. YouTube and similar video sharing websites “are not TV”, Mr Friis said. “The best of TV is about high-quality and full-screen video, but it’s also about channels.”

The Venice Project will earn revenue from taking a cut of the advertising on its channels, with the amount varying according to whether the content owner sells the advertising or whether it is booked by The Venice Project’s own sales team.

“We’re offering something close to business models they already have,” Mr de Wahl said. “We can offer TV-size audiences on the internet.” The company, which has offices in Leiden in the Netherlands, London, New York and Toulouse, will offer incentives to users to provide information about themselves to help advertisers target relevant advertisements to them.

The service is capable of including a pay-per-view element but the service would not be showing pay-per-view films “for a long time”, Mr Friis said. “We are going to start with TV content such as documentaries, drama and music videos.”

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