While covering some of the Internet TV device options out there such as ZvBox
, and SlingCatcher
, we only briefly touched on the need for an integrated interface to harness the vast multitude of video content available online. After connecting your PC/Internet to your home TVs, this becomes the second biggest problem for consumers. Yeah sure, there are a myriad of options for watching great content, from hugely popular sites like Hulu
to the free (ad-based) content that is increasingly available from the broadcast networks’ own sites such as abc.com
. But no one wants to replace the “200 channels and nothing’s on” approach of traditional channel surfing with the need to open 200 browser windows to click around. No, that would be insanity.
Instead, there needs to be a way to not only aggregate content, but let us categorize it ourselves (or with the help of friends) and even more importantly have a “push” mechanism that tells us when new content we like is available. Two options we already covered: Sling Media’s Sling.com
and ZeeVee’s Zinc
. Both of these Internet guides are free, but they are great advertising for these companies to sell their hardware. But what if there was a dedicated guide that combined the best Internet technologies available? That is what New York-based start-up Boxee is trying to do.
Boxee prides itself on being a simple interface that provides what some call a “ten-foot user interface” for Internet TV, photos, and music. Rather than having to open 20 browser windows, Boxee ingests this content into one seamless menu. It also searches and organizes your local content, and combines both local and online content with added value such as lyrics or reviews. Though still somewhat limited, Boxee has plans to bake a comprehensive suite of social networking tools into the guide, including extensive searching and tagging capabilities and the ability to see and share your play lists with connected friends and communities of interest.
Boxee is free and can be downloaded at www.boxee.tv
but it only works on Mac and Linux computers right now and as a hack on Apple TV, but a Windows PC version is being worked on. I had a chance to check out a demo with the help of Boxee’s Yuval Tal. The quality of my video isn’t great by Yuval’s thoughts on their future direction and business model are insightful.
Watch Boxee at CES.
Or check out this corporate overview
There are a few problems I see, some of which may be overcome over time. While Boxee takes RSS feeds for some content, much of what they get in terms of Internet TV has to be manipulated and transformed to fit the beautiful, sleek Boxee interface. The goes against Internet 2.0 business models that try to avoid getting in the middle. The problem with being in the middle is not only does it take too much work to constantly aggregate and integrate content, but you never quite get it right because you can never capture the “long tail” for various communities of interest. Would you want me providing to you my play-list of what I considered the “best music” if all I liked was country? Indeed not.
The second problem I see is with their business model. Boxee’s goal is to build up enough loyal eyeballs that they will be able to go back to the Hulus of the world and “extract value”—meaning some form of highway tax or revenue share for viewers they send to the content hosts. This is going to be difficult, since the Hulus of the world are already doing quite well without their help thank-you and once you move beyond “free” business models like Zinc and Sling.com, you seem to suddenly attract the attention of a lot of lawyers-- you can send your friends for free to my pumpkin patch but don't try to charge me at the gate for the tour. Boxee could try to generate advertising dollars for its eyeballs, but it would have to be discreet or run the risk of a revolt from its passionate early adopters.
That is not to say that I don’t wish Boxee well, because I do. For the Internet TV revolution to really take off to the point that folks can start cutting ties to their $100+ a month cable bills, simple and universal interfaces like Boxee MUST be successful.