In my pre-Demo 07 wanderings at the hotel in Palm Desert, CA, I ran into Gaurav Dhillon, the co-founder and former CEO of Informatica, an enterprise data integration company. His new venture, jaman.com, is at least a 180-degree turn from his previous company. Jaman is pioneering what Dhillon calls "social cinema." Jaman is a service that delivers pay-per-view, feature-length, high-definition films within a social media environment.
Jaman is starting out with a world cinema focus--foreign and independent films that don't get much distribution, but attracts a passionate audience of film fanatics. Netflix doesn't carry many of the films, and the world cinema slice plays into the social aspect of the site. Dhillon said he is targeting three groups--techies who want high quality video, "filmies" who are film festival goers and the emigrant audience, which he said numbers about 56 million who are first generation, foreign born.
Currently, Jaman has negotiated rights for about 1,000 films and 200 have been transcoded from the DVDs. The company sources the films from Americine S.R.L, Arc Light Films LTD, Celestial Filmed Entertainment Inc. (Shaw Brothers Film Library), Cinequest, Inc., ELO Audio Visual, Tip Top Entertainment, Vanguard Cinema and Venevision International Films LLC.
Jaman gives the films a "cinematic" look, which Dhillon said is better quality than DVD, using H.264/MPEG-4, and supports 720 today and 1080 in the near future. I checked out a few of the films and the quality, even at less than 720 was quite good. Jaman developed its own DRM, along the lines of Apple's FairPlay, which is closed.
Films are downloaded via broadband to the user's machine (Mac or PC), either from Jaman's hosting facilities (for films that are not popular) or via a P2P network. Films can be rented via credit card (PayPal to come) for $1.99 for seven days or purchased for $4.99. Films in the 1080 format may be priced with a premium, Dhillon said. Rentals are free for this month as a promotion. The distributor of the film gets 30-percent of the gross for the download, he said.
The social cinema aspect is a chat window that is tied to the film's time code. A histogram at the bottom of the screen displays the density of conversation in synch with the film. User can also write reviews and connect with other members of the Jaman social cinema network. "Social cinema as a category could be a shape shifter," Dhillon told me.
He has certainly chosen the right kind of audience to try out his social networking ideas, but it's unclear whether having comments linked to the film frames will result in a good user experience, especially if the comments are random.
The company has been incubating for 18 months, Dhillon said, and has 30 employees. Jaman's senior vice president of operations Carlos Montalvo was VP and GM of the Interactive Media and QuickTime Group and also an executive at the video search company Virage.
Dhillon mostly self-funded the company, but will be looking to bring a round of capital for the next phase. The next film category to add to the library will be classic TV, Dhillon said.
Jaman will be going up against much bigger competitors, such as Netflix, but the company has developed what looks like a compelling service for people like me, who live on broadband and love to discover and watch obscure, feature films.