Five Questions with Skype co-founder Janus Friis

Niklas Zennstrom and Janus Friis, together could be considered Internet’s biggest trouble makers. As co-founders of Kazaa they brought the wrath of the entire music establishment. With Skype they poked the telephone industry in the eye, before flipping it to eBay for billions. And now they are taking on the television business, with their new start-up, The Venice Project.

But the leopards are changing their spots, and are playing nice with the establishment. Infact, it was one of the main reasons Friis and Zennstrom settled their differences with the music industry and forked over $100 million. They have been building the Venice Project in a stealthy fashion, but are getting close to launch. GigaOM got a chance to chat with Janus yesterday, and here are excerpts from that interview.

Om Malik: What is The Venice Project?

Janus Friis: Television is the most powerful mass medium, and we are trying to do is marry the best of television with the best of internet. What people love about the television is the story telling. What people don’t like is television that is locked in linear time. We want to try and preserve the best bits of television, and discard bits people don’t care for.

People like the freedom of choice and like freedom from choice. For example, channels are good, because they define the content. Today, the channels are locked in legacy infrastructure, but on broadband the channels are not locked in time.

That’s what the Venice Project is doing. What we have done is created a streaming P2P platform for television. This is a platform, which is good for content owners, for advertisers and of course the viewers. Since there are no borders on the Internet, this is a global platform. Sometimes we think content owners have legal reasons to restrict content locally and the technology allows them to do that.

OM: When will you launch the service? What are the bandwidth requirements for The Venice Project? And how good of a quality will the streams have.

JF: Like Skype, The Venice Project is simple – you download and you get free television. There is nothing complicated and simple. Our software is already in beta, and we are doing some bug squashing right now. You can sign-up and we are inviting more people to our beta program. It is near television quality, and it needs about one megabit per second.

OM: Does the Venice Project use the same core underlying technologies that were used in Kazaa and Skype?

JF: Kazaa and Skype were based on a piece of technology called the “Global Index.” Skype basically built a communication layer on top of that. That technology has evolved since then, and the Venice Project, is built on that global index and we have developed a P2P video streaming layer on top of that core technology. (*)

OM: What is the business model for The Venice Project?

JF: We are building an ad-based system, and it is close to the television model. We will do revenue share with the content providers. With our system, people can be targeted with the right kind of ads. We are respecting the copyrights. We will reveal more details about the technology soon.

OM: Does this mean that you are spending less time on Skype?

JF: Niklas and I are entreprenuers at heart, and eBay understands that. I am still at Skype and I think that is where I spend most of my time. On The Venice Project we have tried to build a management team that will take care of things.

(*) Om’s Notes: The Global Index mentioned by Janus is actually Joltid Global Index Software that is owned by a company called Joltid Limited, in which Niklas Zennstrom and Janus Friis have an equity interest. The company was not part of the Skype-Ebay transaction.

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