Ronen: Boxee Isn't a Cable Killer
Even though the company's new "Boxee Box" certainly looks like a product that could let some consumers drop their cable TV subscriptions and rely solely on the Web for video programming, Ronen said in an interview that Boxee isn’t looking to hurt the cable industry with its over-the-top (OTT) technology, which relies on high-speed Internet connections from cable operators and other broadband service providers.
"I don’t know if there is such a thing as a cable killer. If you’re an existing cable subscriber, it’s a great service for you. You may think that you’re paying too much, but the quality is great and you get lots of digital channels. I don’t think people are going to cut the cord in a significant way," Ronen told Cable Digital News at last night's unveiling of the Boxee Box and the beta version of Boxee’s media center software.
Boxee is looking to generate buzz with its Boxee Box at the Consumer Electronics Show next month, and it will commercially deploy the product -- which is WiFi compatible and connects to the TV via an HDMI port -- during the second quarter of 2010. The launch comes as the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is looking to accelerate the retail market for set-tops and other devices that could deliver both pay-TV programming and Internet video content. (See Whither the CableCARD?)
"I think the move toward more connected devices in the living room is something that is necessary," Ronen said Monday. "If you want to see the innovation and creativity that's on the Internet and the Web come to your TV screen, you have to have an open platform."
The Boxee chief was also critical of the cable industry's efforts to deploy CableCARDs that authorize viewers to watch pay-TV content on a TV without using a set-top. "It’s been a struggle for the industry," Ronen said.
More than 1,000 Boxee users and industry executives showed up at the Music Hall of Williamsburg. But, to adhere to the venue's fire codes, only 650 people were allowed into the event. Boxee handed out tickets for free drinks at a local bowling alley to people who were turned away at the door.
Ronen fielded several questions from college students in the audience, including whether Boxee would create an application that would allow users to more easily access content downloaded through BitTorrent Inc. -- the peer-to-peer technology used frequently to pirate movies and TV shows. Ronen said the company realizes that some users are already using Boxee software to watch content from their computers that they've downloaded through BitTorrent. But he said most Boxee users watch online video programming that is streamed on the Web.
"I think the best way to fight piracy is to make your content available online," Ronen added, drawing cheers from Boxee users attending the event.
Boxee debuted in 2008, and its software allowed users to watch TV shows and movies from Hulu LLC , until Hulu's owners pulled the plug on Boxee's access in February. Ronen told Cable Digital News he expects that Hulu owners -- NBC Universal , News Corp. (NYSE: NWS), and Walt Disney Co. (NYSE: DIS) -- will eventually allow Boxee users to watch their content. (See News Bits: Hulu Tries to Elude Boxee Again and Q&A: Boxee CEO Chats About the 'Hulu Situation'.)
“We realize there are a lot of sensitivities around bringing Internet content to the TV screen, so we’re patient. We’ll wait. But we believe eventually they’ll work with us,” Ronen added. Boxee unveiled several new content partners that have built applications for Boxee, including softcore porn site Suicide Girls. The presentation from Suicide Girls founder Missy Suicide drew a raucous response from attendees when she displayed images of nude women on the screen. [Ed note: The lengths one must go to keep the college crowd engaged these days...]
Boxee also unveiled partnerships with online TV site Clicker Media Inc. and videogame news site The Escapist. The event also featured presentations from New York University students developing new ways to navigate TV content with Web-style applications.
— Steve Donohue, Special to Cable Digital News