Joost Goes to the Hoop

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Joost, the Internet TV startup backed by CBS, Viacom and others, will test out its live, streaming peer-to-peer software with the NCAA March Madness tournament, which tips off today.

During the test, every single game from the NCAA tournament will be available — anywhere in the world — for free on Joost., in conjunction with CBS Sports, is also broadcasting the live games for free on the Internet. But you may be parked in the "Waiting Room" before you’re handed a live stream, because of capacity constraints. Last March, tens of thousands of would-be viewers were shut out from the games in queues for upwards of 90 minutes.

A peer-to-peer system like Joost’s is supposed to alleviate that capacity crunch, since multicast streams are passed among the "nodes" in the P2P network instead of every single stream having to originate from a hosted server. And in a P2P architecture, you actually want more participants — as many as possible — since each client acts as an additional relay point for the signal.

But the Joost test is, repeat, a test. Joost expects some technical problems.

In fact, it’s counting on them: "It’s a pretty complex technology, and we fully expect things to go wrong. The stream may stutter, slow, or stop altogether," the startup explains on its March Madness page. "We apologize for any inconveniences, but your participation will help us build a stable live service!"

For now, March Madness nuts who want to be sure to catch every moment of every game have one choice: DirecTV, which is offering an exclusive 37-game pay-per-view package for $69. As DirecTV might point out, that’s less than two bucks per matchup. The Internet TV services may be "free," but presumably you get what you pay for.