Thinking outside the boxee

Yup that’s right. First they had the idea to get the Internet on your TV (remember WebTV?) then it was all about TV on the Internet (Hulu, CBS, CNN, etc. ) and now we’ve got TV on the Internet put back on your TV (boxee).

For those of you not already in the know, boxee is a multi-platform media center with a 10-foot interface for aggregating video, music and photos that exist both offline and online. Others have failed in this space, but the boxee offering pushes the paradigm of content distribution and consumption in some interesting ways.


A quick intro to boxee from boxee on Vimeo.

Why it’s interesting

In their own words, they describe it as “the open, connected, social media center for mac os x and linux.” (Lower-case is the house style at boxee). The service also runs on Windows, if you count the alpha I’m using. This multi-platform approach is almost certainly the right move, since the media space has become so fragmented that I’m not sure anyone can make it on a single platform anymore.

Moreover, the couch potato is dead. Viewers are no longer stationary targets. We consume media on a laptop while taking the ferry to work, on an iPhone while waiting to catch a flight, and on a number of other platforms in addition to the traditional couch and TV scenario. This open-platform approach is one of the reasons that I think they may actually have a play here where other media center offerings have failed to get it done. It’s also worth mentioning that the boxee team appears to have great product design skills.

Why it’s controversial

A recent controversy emerged when boxee broke with online video service, Hulu, which had been integrated into the boxee service. You can read one side of the story, from Hulu CEO Jason Kilar, and add to that some additional perspective from boxee’s Avner Ronen.

The essence of the controversy arises, in part, from the way in which viewers access content. Content providers think about (and measure and monetize) their media very differently when it is viewed on a typical PC (through a browser with a mouse) compared to that same media viewed on a TV. These providers are faced with a landscape that is changing faster than they can, and they are rightly concerned about making decisions now that could be akin to opening Pandora’s box. The needs and models of these providers forced Hulu to say, “Nice try but no dice, boxee,” even as most viewers are left scratching their heads wondering what the difference is and why it matters.

Hulu via boxee
Hulu, as experienced through boxee on my TV.

Hulu via browser
Hulu, as experienced on my desktop PC through a browser.

Boxee’s response to the controversy? They’ve released a new version and in an email announcement they put it this way:

If you’ve used boxee to access Hulu in the past, with this new version you’ll notice that boxee displays the hulu.com webpage before playing the video. this is thanks to a new boxee browser based on Mozilla (like Firefox).

It’s your move, content providers.

Stay tuned for a follow up, where I’ll break down the boxee experience so far and share my thought on what makes it unique and memorable.

4 Comments

Doug LeMoine
Let me first say that I'm a geek. I hook up my PC to my TV pretty often, and I'm not afraid of digging deep into the Internet to find what I want. Still, let me play the devil's advocate. I feel like the premise of boxee is: Let the viewers decide what they want; let them cast off the shackles of traditional programming and create their own "channels" in their own time. It all sounds very Internet-y and nice, but, really, does the future of television involve viewers taking on the task of managing their TV content, of navigating aggregations of aggregations to find what they want? Who wants to do that? The TiVo service on top of cable is already 10x better than that, so this premise seems like a step backward. It also seems slightly crazy to assume that, in this age of HDTV, people will want to make everything more low-def (for the majority of stuff, for the forseeable future), more subject to the whims of Internet traffic, and more technically complicated. I don't know what the future of this stuff is, but I find it hard to imagine an Internet-enabled TV future that does not suck in comparison to that which cable operators are very well set up to provide. Of course, the current cable operators seem a very long way from taking advantage of their reach/technology at this point, but I can't imagine what boxee's future is, other than becoming the media service platform for a cable provider.
Steve Kirks
I have a TiVo but without cable, using an antenna for HDTV. Cable programming doesn't give me the option of choosing my content, instead forcing me to spend a larger amount of money on products I don't want. Boxee would allow me to pick what I want and see it how I want to. If Hulu had the same selection of shows as most cable networks *and* I could guarantee access and quality by paying a subscription, I would do it. I do this now with Netflix and TiVo, getting old episodes of 30Rock in HD as part of a small fee to Netflix. It's really not the money that I would spend as much as controlling the way I purchase the product and more so, "voting" for the shows I like with my dollars.
ixtrian
this is such a helpful, understandable explanation, thank you for posting it!
Nate
I think a lot of folks are thinking the way you are, Steve. By the way, I believe you can access Netflix though boxee on all the platforms except windows already. To respond to my friend Doug, I agree that people do not want to manage their tv. That would definitely suck. I also agree that internet bandwidth is a serious limiting factor. With that said, who hasn't dreamed about the holy grail of a la carte programming, as Steve describes? Also consider this somewhat recent study: http://news.cnet.com/8301-17938_105-10230090-1.html?tag=feed&subj=Crave&part=sphere

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