Hollywood Shoots Itself In The Foot… Again; Removes Content From Boxee

from the there's-stupid-and-then-there's-hollywood dept

I’ve been hearing such wonderful things about Boxee lately that I had actually been meaning to test it out in the next few weeks. It makes it quite easy to view internet content over your television — helping to bridge that “final gap” between the internet and your television. Boxee has done a nice job integrating a variety of different legal online video services so you can watch them all via your TV. Obviously, one of the big ones was Hulu, which provides video streams of some of the most popular shows on television. There are some dumb limitations associated with Hulu — including geographic restrictions and music licensing restrictions — but for those who can use Hulu it actually works quite well (surprising for an offering set up by NBC Universal and News Corp.). The folks at Hulu have actually been pretty upfront in explaining the limitations and their own frustrations in dealing with some of the very content providers who funded them in knocking down some of the more idiotic restrictions.

However, now it appears those content providers have shot themselves in the foot again. Christopher Froehlich alerts us to the news that Hulu’s content providers have demanded that Boxee stop streaming Hulu content and Boxee is going to comply. Hulu has a post on their own blog, where they certainly sound quite apologetic about the whole thing:

The maddening part of writing this blog entry is that we realize that there is no immediate win here for users. Please know that we take very seriously our role of representing users such that we are able to provide more and more content in more and more ways over time. We embrace this activity in ways that respect content owners’ — and even the entire industry’s — challenges to create great content that users love. Yes, it’s a complex matter. A tough mission, and a never-ending one, but one we are passionately committed to.

For those Boxee users reading this post, we understand and appreciate that you’re likely to tell us that we’re nuts. Please know that we do share the same interests and won’t stop innovating in support of the bigger mission.

Kudos to Hulu and its CEO for at least explaining the issue in a human, rather than corporate-PR-speak way. And, yes, it’s the content providers who are nuts, rather than Hulu. After all, wasn’t the point of putting the content on Hulu to get more people to watch the content? Why would they possibly try to make it more difficult for people to watch. Oh, wait, we forgot. NBC Universal thinks it’s a good thing to make their content hard to watch.

But, to be honest, it’s difficult to see how there’s even a claim at all by the content providers at all. They put the content on Hulu so that anyone watching the content via the internet on a computer within the geographic restrictions should be fine. Boxee is just an application on a computer. It’s functionally identical to watching the content on your computer screen. The only real difference is that the “screen” is a television instead of a monitor. But the mechanism is identical. It’s difficult to see how the content providers can claim any right whatsoever to say that you can watch the content that they purposely put online only on a specific type of screen. I can understand Hulu not wanting to upset its content providers. And I can understand Boxee not wanting to upset Hulu… but I can’t see how those content providers have any legal right to make this request at all.

Hell, I imagine users of Boxee (depending on their setup) can simply use the computer they already have hooked up to their TV to surf directly over to Hulu. The interface might not be as nice, but they’ll still get to see the content. In those cases, it’s not even about the screen — but the browser. It’s perfectly legal for me to hook up my laptop to a TV, surf over to Hulu in Firefox and watch a show. All Boxee does is put that into a different browser — a better browser for TV. Since when does any content provider get to say that it’s okay to watch the content they put online in one browser, but not another? In the end, what good at all does it do to ban Hulu on Boxee other than piss people off?

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Companies: boxee, hulu, nbc universal

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Comments on “Hollywood Shoots Itself In The Foot… Again; Removes Content From Boxee”

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38 Comments
Josh says:

Re: Browser vs. Boxee

Everyone seems to ask, “Why would one browser be considered ok, while the ‘Boxee Browser’ is not?”

My best guess is that the Boxee interface is not conducive to clicking on the interactive ads, so any ads on Hulu, even if displayed by Boxee, will essentially have a zero click-through-rate. Thus the value of the ad is reduced.

Brian Walsh says:

Can’t believe that I am going to argue this, but could it actually be the cable providers pushing back on the content producers that is causing this. On xhttp://origin-blog.hulu.com/2009/2/18/doing-hard-things, there are dozens of comments from users who have dropped their cable/satellite connections to go with broadband – boxee – hulu. Given the large sums that the cable cos are paying for access, could they be pushing back? Perhaps the likes of NBC/Fox actually want to send their content there but are not permitted because of existing contracts or perhaps they are at risk of losing that revenue stream.

Possibly? [Can’t believe I am arguing for them!]

Ima Fish (profile) says:

It makes it quite easy to view internet content over your television — helping to bridge that “final gap” between the internet and your television.

It would seem to me that the bridging the final gap between the internet and your television would consist of DVI and audio cables.

If people are willing to spend hundreds of dollars on a console such as the PS3 or 360, or on a single purpose device such as a Blu-ray player… why not spend a couple of hundred on a PC and get full access to everything the net and your hard drive offers?!

I’ve had a PC connected to my living room TV since the late 90s and I’m never going back. And it’s even better with HDTVs. You haven’t surfed until you’ve surfed at 1920 X 1080.

You can play all of those music files you’ve collected over the years in your living room.

You easily show people all of your pictures and home videos.

You can easily play all of those Xvid and MKV files you’ve collected.

And let’s not forget about PC games too.

And best of all you can control nearly everything with a simple blue-tooth mouse. If you can use a mouse at work, you can use it while sitting on the living room couch. I keep a blue-tooth keyboard around for those rare occasions when I do have to type. It’s not like it’s a big deal.

What would be a big deal, to me at least, would be limiting what I can watch on the net or my hard drive to only what Boxee is willing to offer.

MattP says:

Re: Re:

“It would seem to me that the bridging the final gap between the internet and your television would consist of DVI and audio cables.”

A DVI to HDMI adapter is easy to find these days. A quick scan of NewEgg’s Video Card Accessories Deals page shows 3 between $6.99 and $9.99

Many newer cards include such an adapter or have the port built in.

Joseph says:

Browser vs. Boxee

If anything, this is going to drive people who would have watched the networks’ legitimate online offering to bittorrent (so they can watch it on their TVs, instead of on a computer screen). I’d been thinking of getting an AppleTV and putting Boxee on it to watch hulu in conjunction with my DVR. Not much point in doing that, though, now.

Fribr says:

Re: Browser vs. Boxee

If anything, this is going to drive people who would have watched the networks’ legitimate online offering to bittorrent

Exactly, my torrent use had slowed to only tv shows from the UK. Since Boxee is now my platform for online media it looks like I’m going back to ad free content. I’m sorry that Hulu has to suffer.

chris (profile) says:

Re: Browser vs. Boxee

If anything, this is going to drive people who would have watched the networks’ legitimate online offering to bittorrent (so they can watch it on their TVs, instead of on a computer screen).

i have been using a modded xbox with xbox media center, a file server, and bit torrent to watch downloaded movies and TV shows on my TV for like 5 years.

i would use boxee or something else, but honestly, my current setup is so easy to use and has so few restrictions that the “sanctioned” versions of shows are nearly impossible to use by comparison.

Anonymous Coward says:

This is actually quite a blow for the set-top box industry.

Boxee and others had figured out away to provide value to customers legally. Several hardware makers were moving to this route: apple, roku, vudu, etc

Now you’ll probably see similar hardware that simply runs a browser. Heck, you can probably make firefox work with the windows remote. Now all you need is a small cpu capable of running wifi, firefox, silverlight (ughh), and flash. A few common media outputs and you are all-set. (Wait a second, this is my idea, you can’t have it!!! It’s completely non-obvious 🙂 )

There’s already a tool for running hulu through windows media center. http://www.secondrun.tv/

Just like the post above notes, it’s just an internet terminal. This is a bad move for hulu-ers

Ken Jackson says:

Why content providers want to shut down Boxee

I suspect it is about the ability to control future revenue streams. Unfortunately, content providers still haven’t figured out how to make money from online content. They aren’t sure if the revenue is going to come from the video stream or the surrounding content. I think they believe that without control of the whole playground, they won’t be able to figure this out.

I fully expect that if they can get all of their revenue simply out of the stream, then they will want to give this streams away (probably with the player attached, since I imagine that’s how accounting will be done). But until then I think they view the potential of Boxxee (or something similar) becoming too popular with no sure way to make revenue from that model too scary. And in this case they may be right.

I say give them a year. Everyone in this space is learning how this thing is coming together. People are going to fumble the ball. Lets let them make their mistakes.

EnOne says:

No Hulu Flash for non Mac or Windows

The version of flash that is used by Hulu is only on Windows and Mac. Which isn’t an issue unless you want to watch on a non Windows/Mac browser like Linux, Ubuntu, boxee, Linux, Wii, PS3…

This is why youtube works and hulu does not, the version of flash that is used by youtube is an earlier version that does port and doesn’t have region encoding.

MikeyTG says:

Arggg - no more Dragnet!

I’ve been using Boxee to watch Hulu on my Apple TV for a month or so now. It is disappointing that the content chimps have now decided to throw their turds at Hulu and Boxee. Luckily both the Boxee team and some external developers are adding plug-ins for new content sources on a regular basis.

I also expect that this action will spur the developer community to find other ways to get to the content people want. I was satisfied watching Hulu with its minimal commercials, but if it comes to it I can always sign up for an unlimited usenet account and just download everything I want, WITHOUT COMMERCIALS.

Your choice, Bonzo.

Mark Rosedale (profile) says:

That is what is so absurd

Your final paragraph shows just why this is so absurd. I was working to put Boxee in place at home, and probably still will, but for Hulu content I can simply kill boxee and watch it via FF on my computer. Once the stream is full screen it probably won’t look a bit different. Are the content owners really that dense? This is absolutely absurd.

johnfordummies (profile) says:

What I don’t get is… since the time of radio, advertisers have been paying out the a$$ for air time to play commercials that people may or may not hear (or see on TV). With over the air broadcasts, there was no good way to determine how many people actually got the message in the ads. Nielson families provide only a “best guess” of what the country is watching, and it was much simpler when there were only 3 networks…

But with digital streaming — and no way to cut out the commercials, such as the ones Hulu plays–they know exactly how many times a commercial has been watched… they know exactly how popular a show is… Isn’t that exactly what Ad Execs have been drooling over since the dawn of advertising?

Hulu made a big mistake, IMO. What does it hurt to give your content more exposure if it leads to more revenue? I don’t even know if Hulu has text or banner ads on their site, because I use adblock plus there, but I know for a fact I’ve seen at least 2 Target commercials every time I watch the Office.

Side Note: Why all the hating on Silverlight? Just because a technology comes from an evil corporation, that doesn’t automatically make it bad. In my experience, Silverlight runs much lighter than Flash. And Moonlight seems to be working pretty well on *nix.

gatherlight says:

it's the cable companies

I’d bet it is the cable companies that are pushing there weight on the content providers to halt this.
Why? Because they are the ones that are going to lose the most money. I am sure Comcast has had their lobbyists all over the content providers to stop Boxee. I was just about to buy an Apply TV and run Boxee, now I am on pause for killing my cable company bill.

jqdoe says:

sigh

@ Ima – apparently you’re not well-versed in Boxee. In case you’re wondering, I (and many, many others) run it on my $200 apple tv that “just works” – why bother with a whole computer setup?

To be honest, I hate watching TV on my computer. I don’t like walking all the way back to my office/workshop and sitting in a “work” position to get “entertainment”. Pretty much everyone I know (save a few) are same way – you have this great LCD TV, and the content on the internet is only useful when it’s easy to get on the TV.

A shame though, this is bad both for both Hulu and Boxee. Just a few nights ago the lady and I determined there was absolutely nothing worth watching on the 200+ channels of cable, so we figured we’d head over to Hulu (via Boxee) and pick up some show we hadn’t seen yet there. Alas, there was nothing available, and we haven’t loaded Boxee since. (Hulu being the number one app for us – given the diversity of content, and the amount available in _one place_ versus having to dig through all of the other options, one at a time.)

Moe Larry says:

Money

Don’t you get it? People are canceling paytv – cabel, satellite, etc. Before cable the movie theaters warned us that PayTV was coming – here is the evolution:
Free TV over the air – paid for by commercials
Cable and Sat TV PAY Tv – Paid for by you, and then paid for again by commercials. Shoot, they just increased the revenue.
CABLE & SAT TV (PayTV) Plus Broadband Internet – Paid for by you and commercials, increase in fees for internet also.
Only broadband internet: No more PayTV, no more commercials, only broadband fees. First time they have to take a revenue cut in 30 years. They do not want to go this way.

Watch for a piracy crackdown, they are hating it that people are downloading TV shows (commericials edited out) and watching for free (except for broadband fees). Let’s face it, when you pay your cable or sat tv bill, you are paying for (and enriching) things and people you may not watch nor want to support. When I pay my bill I am paying for many womans entertainment channels, black entertainment channel, Oprah, E!, all the sports channels, etc, none of which do I watch or want to support.

Konrad Roeder says:

Re: Money

Your evolution again with a different twist:
==Free TV over the air==
Nielsen Ratings tell them the statistical marketshare, which determines the cost of advertising and the demographic as to who is watching.

==Cable and Sat TV PAY Tv==
More channels, more competition but lower marketshare per channel.
Nielsen Ratings tell them the marketshare for TV. In some cases two-way cable tells them live marketshare but no demographics or the number of viewers watching.

==CABLE & SAT TV (PayTV) Plus Broadband Internet==
More and more people switch to the Internet – Infinite “channels” to surf. TV is on the decline because the long tail is growing.

Who is watching Internet early on came from companies like Double-click and their tracking cookies. Google bought double click in 2008. Google figured out how to make the dollars instead of/in addition to the content providers. Google pretty much knows who watches what on the Internet and charges for ads next to the content. The content providers make some money from the ad revenue.

==Only broadband internet. True HTPC TV is here==
But who pays for the programming in this business model?
They want to know who is watching so that they can collect the revenue stream. My Internet provider is not going to pay for the programming, they just deliver the bits.

Hulu knows their marketshare by the number of streams they deliver. What they don’t know who is watching since it’s an iTV with possibly a wole group of people watchin/surfing.

Honestly, I can do fine without a Google toolbar on my iTV.

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