Hulu Boxes Out Boxee
I trust you all are familiar with Hulu (surely its Super Bowl ad must have helped), but Boxee may need some explanation. This software provides a simplified interface for digital video, audio and pictures, much like Microsoft's Media Center front-end for Windows and Apple's Front Row for Mac OS X. Like those two higher-profile applications, Boxee -- available for Mac OS X 10.4 and 10.5 (plus, with a little hacking, the Apple TV) and Ubuntu Linux, with a test version for Windows in private release -- also connects to a variety of Web sites to display their content.
And until the end of last week, Hulu was among them. But on Wednesday, Hulu chief executive Jason Kilar posted a note on the site's blog:
Our content providers requested that we turn off access to our content via the Boxee product, and we are respecting their wishes. While we stubbornly believe in this brave new world of media convergence -- bumps and all -- we are also steadfast in our belief that the best way to achieve our ambitious, never-ending mission of making media easier for users is to work hand-in-hand with content owners.
At Boxee's blog, chief executive Avner Ronen provided a little more background:
two weeks ago Hulu called and told us their content partners were asking them to remove Hulu from boxee. we tried (many times) to plead the case for keeping Hulu on boxee, but on Friday of this week, in good faith, we will be removing it.
Neither post identified the content partners or providers who specifically objected to Hulu's availability on Boxee -- though they can't be CBS or the WB, since links to those networks' shows still work in Boxee. Nor is there any clue as to what these faceless, amorphous partners or providers didn't like about Boxee. It's hard to imagine what that might be, since:
1) Boxee displays the same ads next to a video that you see when you visit Hulu in a regular Web browser;
2) Boxee, like a regular Web browser, doesn't let you download a copy of the video or do anything else special with it;
3) Boxee does, however, include a BitTorrent application, so if users of this program find themselves frustrated in their quest to watch a TV show legally, they won't have to work that hard to download an unauthorized copy from some other source;
4) Boxee's support of the Apple TV does make it easier watch Web-hosted TV shows on a regular set -- which might make a lot of broadcasters and TV service providers anxious -- but it's not the only way to do that. You can plug a computer into an HDTV and watch Hulu through any Web browser.
Even by the high standards set by the movie industry, cutting out Boxee seems like an extraordinarily dumb form of self-defeating control-freakishness. You've got willing viewers who have no problem watching your ads, and you send them away for no logical reason? As a worker in an industry that's facing its own shaky transition to Web distribution, I find that kind of conduct utterly mind-boggling.
Boxee's management would be justified in yelling "what is wrong with you people?!" but is instead taking the high road. The company has invited its users to help it write a pitch to whatever company or companies voted to boot Boxee off of Hulu, explaining why their use of Boxee only helps TV networks.
Are you a Boxee user, and if so, have you put in your $.02 worth into that pitch? And what's your own theory about what's happened here -- why would one or more TV studios or networks decide they didn't like the software you use?
February 23, 2009; 12:10 PM ET
Categories: The Web , Video
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