Interview: Jaman prepares European assault

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Faisal Galaira Jaman.com.jpg

Jaman, California-based company that offers full length movies for either downloads or rental via a P2P client is planning to launch a European arm. The move is prior to an expansion of its programme of buying up rights to “mid-tail” independent and niche films.

Unlike Joost, which is really aimed at TV viewers, Jaman is going for audiences who want successful independent film (the kind of thing “Trainspotting” was once before it hit the big time) which they can’t get in their local cinema. (You might think that would mean that there would be a lot of Bollywood movies and Asian or Latin American cinema on it as a result. There is indeed much of this content, but so far 60% of Jaman’s content is actually English language based).

Babelgum is closest to Jaman’s model, with it’s emphasis on independent professionally produced video content, but unlike both of the aforementioned, Jaman is about downloading high quality HD film to rent or keep, rather than P2P streaming.

Jaman’s player works on Windows XP, Vista and Mac. Jaman has also developed an unofficial plug-in for the AppleTV device which syncs content downloaded via the Jaman player (they have their own proprietary DRM player which, like Apple’s Fairplay DRM, allows the sharing of the content across 5 devices) to Apple’s box. They’re lead engineer on the project actually came from Apple, in fact.

Founder and CEO Gaurav Dhillon previously co-founded Informatica in 1992, which IPO’d in 1999. Jaman is not short of friends in high places. Backers include Hearst Corporation.

Although Jaman’s video downloads to a PC, evidently they expect people to hook up the PC to a proper HD-capable TV and watch it in all its glory there. Any user creating an account – the sites is on an open Beta right now – will get three free film downloads before they have to shell out any money.

So far Jaman has aggregated over 1,500 international movies, and plans to acquire more content after its series A funding round, which should be completed this Autumn.

I met with British-born Faisal Galaria, recently appointed General manager EMEA, who was at one point a European director of Skype…

[continued]

“Jaman is about attracting the cognoscenti. It’s about the ‘fat belly’ of the Long Tail,” he says. “According to Screen Digest 99% of films made do not get theatrical distribution, which leaves a lot of great films unseen by the public.” Jaman is able to offer those rights holders distribution in return for a revenue share.

What’s the share? It’s 30/70 in Jaman’s favour. That sounds possibly on the high side, but if you think about it, all a film maker or rights holder has to do is allow their content to appear on the Jaman system from then on they need do nothing, since Jaman handles all the bandwidth and distribution.

Galaria says it’s taken $7.5m to develop Jaman over the last two years and it was launched in Beta in March.

Right now he is over in London talking to rights holders of libraries of content. Part of the Jaman strategy is also to strike deals with ISPs and portals to gain distribution and be a value-added service. In other words, “Sign up to our ISP and get movie downloads of independent cinema and TV”.

Downloading HD movies sounds like something of a nightmare. In reality the ‘weight’ is about 1 hour to one Gigabyte on an average broadband connections. So a 2.5 hour movie would be 2.5 hours long to download. At $2 to rent for a week and $5 to buy, that doesn’t sound too onerous, especially if its HD-quality content which you would just never see at your local cinema because the audience is too niche.

The downloading process is also “progressive” meaning that you can start watching the film before its finished downloading. A trailer appears in Flash on the site so you can ‘taste’ the movie prior to download.

Much of this would be impressive enough were it not for the fact that Jaman is ALSO a social network around independent cinema.

“We also have social networking built in for people to recommend movies and share lists – they can use it for content discvery. We think of it as ‘iTunes for Movies meets LastFM’ ” says Galaria.

This social element even extends to watching the film. It’s possible to watch the movie in ‘interactive’ mode where you can see comments other users have made in the time-line of the movie. Say the leading man punches the bad guy, someone might have said “That looks very fake” at that point – so that comment appears exactly as that scene flashes up.

Although Jaman is not strictly “UGC” – independent film makers can upload their own content using the “Open Cine” function. The community votes on it, and if it gets sufficient backing then Jaman flips the content into it’s main network and then will do a revenue share with the rights holder. No porn has appeared as yet – says Galaria – because the community can easily vote it down for deletion – plus its probably just not worth any pornographer’s while!

Jaman could also be fairly immune to competition from the likes of Joost of Babelgum, which rely on streaming to deliver their content.

As Galaria points out: “Joosta and Babalgum are streaming-based and standard defintion. We’re high definition and download. What happens if YouTube takes off their 10 minute limit on video? They have 100m users already. That’s hard to beat. Our approach is different in that it’s a compelling HD experience. So DRM and HD and community is a barrier to entry. A lot of our content is hard to get hold of. It’s not replicating Cable or satellite TV where there are 500 channels of crap. Thus is great quality content you can’t get it at the cinema. It’s not MTV or Daily motion. Again it’s quality. Hence why people pay to download it.”

Personally I should think documentary film is going to be one of the more compelling aspects of this service. There are plenty of niche documentaries released – especially at events like the Sundance Film festival – which here in Britain we never get to see unless Channel 4 or the BBC buy them up, and then months or years after they have aired elsewhere.

It’ll be interesting to see what content Jaman manages to acquire here in Europe as they ramp up, and how the European audience takes to their offering. I can also see a few TV channels will start to sweat a little more…

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