JANUS FRIIS, 30 / NIKLAS ZENNSTRÖM, 40
First they gave the middle finger to the music business with their file-sharing service, Kazaa. Then they showed up the telecommunications industry with their free online phone carrier, Skype (which they sold for $2.6 billion to eBay). So who are Janus Friis and Niklas Zennström out to piss off next? The television industry, of course, with an Internet TV application the partners have named Joost. “The way we interact with TV is about to change in a big way,” says Zennström. “We want to drive that change.” How? By offering a global platform for peer-to-peer video streaming. Joost, which debuts this spring, provides a free, full-screen-TV experience on your computer, with a host of channels that can be programmed by anyonefrom MTV to a network in Nepal to the next Tarantino who wants to share his magnum opus with the world. Friis and Zennström have sidestepped storage issues by letting users do the hostingand have, they believe, created a piracy-proof system. What’s more, Joost will be entirely free. So while some major outlets, such as Viacom, are signing up, there’s still a low growling sound emanating from Hollywood, the cable companies, and even the Apple iTunes store. “Niklas and I don’t aim to take down industries,” explains Friis. “We just look for opportunityand this is one.”
TIM WESTERGREN, 41
Founder, Pandora and the Music Genome Project
Until recently, the Internet was a doer, not a thinker. But Tim Westergren’s site Pandora.com and his diabolically addictive Music Genome Project have the Web intuiting that most human of matters: taste. “We’re solving a problem: There’s so much music on the Web that listeners can’t sort it,” says Westergren, a Stanford-educated “failed musician.” The MGP is like a bespoke radio station: Users provide their favorite songs or artists, and the site builds playlists based on analyses of hundreds of thousands of tracks according to nearly 400 musical “genes”vocal harmony, melodic phrasing, rhythmic syncopation, trombone (and whether that trombone plays Dixieland jazz or Jamaican ska), and so on. Arcade Fire fans will be introduced to Miguel Mendez—and will be shocked by how much they like him. The MGP began as a recommendation tool licensed to AOL and Tower Records, among others. Since Pandora went live in 2006, 5.5 million users have registeredincluding concert promoters seeking opening bands and music supervisors compiling soundtracks. “They’ll start by typing in the perfect song,” Westergren says. “Probably the one they can’t afford.” Even more inspiring are the potential applications of his genomic model for other industries. “Periodically I get calls from people to develop a wine genome, or a book genome,” Westergren says. “Eventually this will exist for a lot of categories. It’s inevitable.”
SETH HABERMAN, 46
Founder and CEO, Visible World
Seth Haberman might just be the man who saves television advertising from one mortal enemy (TiVo) by borrowing from another (the Internet). His company, Visible World, is pioneering IntelliSpots, TV ads to be digitally tailored toward a viewer’s specific location and demographic. “Thousands of ads for websites change all the time,” he says. “We can now do that for television.” The idea came to Haberman while he was sifting through reams of demographic data for a client in the insurance industry. “I thought, Why can’t a TV commercial reflect what we already know about these people?” he says. Haberman’s ads might automatically come through in, say, Spanish, or be more youth-focused, depending on a household’s composition. And thanks to Visible World’s digital platform, advertisers are able to alter commercials in seconds to interact with the program you’re watching. So Wendy’s animated racoons can discuss the action in a game (“Did you see that pass?”), as they did on Haberman’s ads that ran during the NFL season. (Other companies that have signed on include MTV, Subaru, Comcast, and all six of the country’s major cable operators.) Haberman and Visible World recently developed even more precisely targeted IntelliSpots. So now the Wendy’s racoons could give you a shout-out by name during the middle of 30 Rocktry fast-forwarding through that.