The blogoshere is abuzz today about Hulu pulling its content from Boxee at the request of it’s content partners and owners, NBC and Fox. TechAviv NY member Boxee, in case you’ve been comatose for the last 6 months, is the new open source social media center phenom that is taking the Internet by storm with over 300K alpha testers in its first few months. The controversial decision is fueling a wave of understandable emotion by Boxee and non-Boxee users alike. This is an explosive topic because it touches the sensitive and intertwined issues of consumer and content rights on the Internet. I’d like to share some perspective as the founder of a web video organization and as an advisor to both TV networks and Boxee.
First of all I commend Boxee CEO Avner Ronen and Hulu CEO Jason Kilar on the thoughtful tone of their blog posts (here and here) on the matter. These are two smart young guys on the bleeding edge of the new media revolution. Take a moment to read their posts and comment exchanges in the blogosphere (here and here). Pay attention aspiring CEO’s, this is leadership. They both want Hulu on Boxee and in front of millions of leaned-back TV viewers. NBC and Fox also want their ad-supported content viewed by as many people as possible.
So what’s the problem here?
Many point to the technical and legal differences between a standard browser streaming a video on your TV and Boxee. Others opine that legacy TV distribution contracts are crippling Internet delivery to TV sets. Some say big media is just afraid of anything new they can’t control, own or fully understand.
All the issues combined have confused executives at the powers that be but there is only one real factor that directly dictated this move; Money. Cable companies are losing a boat-load of it due to the recession and because services such as Boxee make it easier to watch quality TV over the web, on your TV, for free. What they don’t realize yet (they’re getting there, just slowly as usual) is that they are in the best position to monetize such interactive services by offering them via their entrenched set-top boxes. All their new boxes have the technical ability to connect to the Internet. Glance back there. You’ll see an empty Ethernet port. Your cable company is just waiting to figure out what to do with it so as not to cannibalize the biggest portion of their “triple play” subscription revenue: TV. What they know is that they can’t compete with the Boxee’s of the world on the software and innovation front. What they should be doing is talking to Boxee about licensing and embedding their best-of-breed media center software on their boxes. It will be a while before that conversation happens and in the meantime, in an effort to give themselves time to think, they’ve most likely pressured NBC and Fox to request Hulu pull their content from Boxee. Hulu really has no play in the matter. Its at the mercy of it’s owners. It’s a real shame that these mistakes keep repeating themselves as fear, ignorance and greed slow the path of consumer-driven innovation.
Peter Kafka of AllThingsDigital nailed it in this post and interview with Avner:
Boxee is going to come out of this story as a powerful poster child of the new era of Internet TV. They are the innovative underdog disruptor and this the best press their mission could get. These guys are the real deal. The cable companies and TV networks are going to get a black eye once again for failing to embrace unstoppable consumer demand and the inevitably evolving nature of their business models.