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 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.

Nate Fortin

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