TV’s Future Suffers a Setback

A few months ago I was introduced to a website called Hulu. It’s basically a DVR on the web. Several popular Fox and NBC TV shows are available to stream, as well as a few movies. All of them have limited commercial content. Basically, instead of a 2-3 minute commercial break, you watch a 30 second spot at each break. That’s the perfect length of commercial, because it’s not long enough to go do anything. You just sit through the 30 seconds and get back to the content.

Brilliant idea, but somewhat limited to people that like to watch TV and movies on their computers. After learning about it, I never watched a single thing from Hulu on my computer.

A little while later, I heard about Boxee. It’s a media player, a lot like Front Row but with embedded streaming sources, and without the limitations of Front Row. It was still in a limited alpha release. Sounds cool, but I still didn’t watch that much media on my computer.

Except, Boxee had a software hack for the Apple TV. I could (and did) upload Boxee to my Apple TV, and stream web content as well as local network video and audio. I could place a network HD with a TB of video on my wireless N, and stream it through my Apple TV… very appealing. But Boxee also streamed Hulu content. I could watch missed episodes of the Office or Heroes or 24 on my TV. No wires, no fuss, no hooking my computer up. Just turn on the Apple TV and go. This kind of thing is the future of broadcast TV. Boxee wasn’t just talking about it, they were doing it.

Boxee had converted my set top box to a broadcast streaming device. I was still watching commercials (In fact, Boxee doesn’t let you skip them!) but not as many. I was watching the same content available at the Hulu website. I had never used that site before boxee. The advertisers were getting more exposure to me because I was using Boxee. That’s an important point.

February 18, 2009 Hulu announced they would be shutting down Boxee’s access to their content. An excerpt from Hulu’s Blog entry:

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. Without their content, none of what Hulu does would be possible, including providing you content via Hulu.com and our many distribution partner websites.

Our mission to make media dramatically easier and more user-focused has not changed and will not change. We will not stop until we achieve it and we are sober in our assessment that we have such a long way to go.

Reading between the lines here, Hulu’s not happy about this at all. But, without the content, there’s no Hulu.

It boggles the mind. How is it any different for me to watch the content on Hulu with commercials or Boxee with commercials? These are content providers who are afraid. This is a new model of broadcast, and they can’t think it through, so they are pulling back.

From Boxee’s Blog entry:

our goal has always been to drive users to legal sources of content that are publicly available on the Internet. we have many content partners who are generating revenue from boxee users and we will work with Hulu and their partners to resolve the situation as quickly as possible.

we will tell them how users love Hulu on boxee, why it represents a great opportunity for them to better engage with fans of their shows, how boxee can help in exposing their content to new people, and why they should be excited about future opportunities of working with us.

Many comments on Boxee’s site express frustration, and claim they will go back to illegal downloads of this content through bit torrents. Virtually no one is saying theywill log onto Hulu to see this content. So, advertisers lose. Past history shows that I will never log onto Hulu to watch.

Boxee has set up a public wiki page for users to help with ideas on a “pitch” to Hulu’s content providers. Now, if we can just get past discussions on boxee.tv’s lack of use of capital letters maybe we can help move media forward… again.

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