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Summary:

The buzz has been building for Boxee lately. Mainstream news outlets like The New York Times, BusinessWeek and NPR are getting hip to the little open-source media center that could quite possibly change the way you experience TV. I first met Boxee CEO and co-founder Avner […]

The buzz has been building for Boxee lately. Mainstream news outlets like The New York Times, BusinessWeek and NPR are getting hip to the little open-source media center that could quite possibly change the way you experience TV.

I first met Boxee CEO and co-founder Avner Ronen at a NewTeeVee meetup in New York roughly a year ago. At the time, I was contemplating buying an Apple TV. He politely shook his head and said I shouldn’t bother, that his company had something better in the works.

Indeed, Boxee launched its alpha last June, it has since gone on to aggregate some big-name content, allowing users to watch Hulu, ABC, Joost and even stream Netflix video through its clean interface. Boxee now has more than 240,000 users checking out its alpha, and, oh yeah, it raised $4 million in October, helping ensure that its 12-person staff will have jobs through 2009.

boxee-video-browsing-screenshotWith all it has going for it, it’s no wonder everyone is jumping on the Boxee bandwagon. I asked Ronen why people love his company so — he credits the diligence with which Boxee listens to its audience. Twitter plays a big part in what Boxee does; Ronen himself maintains the @Boxee account on the micro-blogging service answering questions, delivering news and taking advice from users. The company also continuously combs through its forums and changes up its product road map based on what its community is saying.

The approach reminds me of Hulu CEO Jason Kilar’s talk at NewTeeVee Live, in which he described his staff’s near-constant vigil with the Hulu community, solving and responding to even minor technical issues at all hours of the night.

That’s not to say Boxee’s success is guaranteed. The more tech-savvy may not mind downloading and configuring an app and plugging a computer into TV screen, but that solution isn’t for everyone. And while Boxee is building a sizable following right now, it still needs to show that it can make money at some point. But Ronen and his Boxee crew are aware of the issues before them and are realistic about tackling them. For now they can bask in the moment, and prepare for the next version of the alpha, due out March 5.

So what lessons can be learned from Boxee?

  • Pay attention to your audience and use all the tools available to communicate with them. Ronen & Co. are always on Twitter and use it as a two-way street.
  • Be willing to take in good ideas that come from outside the company. Boxee adjusts its product road map as it receives input from the community.
  • Be efficient. Boxee was built using open-source tools, and the company has only 12 employees with no plans to get any bigger anytime soon.

But the real reason I like Boxee? It, like so many other successful companies, seems to be a direct extension of its leader. Ronen’s a genuine, soft-spoken guy with just the right amount of overconfidence; he sincerely wants to build a great business, and isn’t looking for a quick cash-out. Because he is sincere, Boxee, by extension, is, and audiences pick up on that and want to be a part of it.

http://blip.tv/play/AerzYIX+KQ

Pasted above is a quick video I shot of Ronen talking about how Boxee uses Twitter and forums to stay connected with fans, how they’re going to move into the mainstream, and how the company would implement a Facebook integration.

  1. I totally love Boxee. When I downloaded and installed it on a Mac Mini that was hooked up to my ADSL2 connection and a Plasma screen, the Internet TV was in my living room without much of an effort. I have not been able to make it work at all on the Apple TV, but that doesn’t matter. Pretty happy to watch Hulu on the big screen.

    It has some social features but they are not very attractive to me just yet. Perhaps in a while I would like to share with others as to what shows I am watching and perhaps publish that to my personal blog http://omis.me.

    Anyway for a service that is in alpha, Boxee is pretty rocking.

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  2. Boxee is a great add on to Apple TV, but the interface could use an overhaul–it’s far less intuitive than AppleTV’s.

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  3. @Brandon

    I have had no luck on AppleTV but on Mac Mini I am pretty happy. It is funny I wrote about the business of the future was smart aggregation. Boxee does that well. It is pretty darn awesome on the 15-inch macbook pro with the Apple remote it works nicely.

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  4. I rip my dvds with mactheripper, and boxee crashes consistently when I try to play back any of those movies…plus I’ve been an active contributor to their bug reporting because conceptually, I love the idea. But so far, I’m very unimpressed with the product…

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  5. I have Boxee running on a Mini and my Apple TV. It’s a sweet app and makes you wish Apple officially opens up the ATV to 3rd-party developers. I agree with Brandon, Boxee needs improvement. Usability is okay on a Mac, but issues really surface when you switch between the intuitive Apple TV interface and Boxee’s complicated UI.

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  6. boxee, meh! glad to see people trying to innovate, kudos for the effort but as far as i’m concerned nobody has come up with a 10ft interface and a full set of features that i’m ready to adopt. there is so much pent of demand too but the solutions that are most talked about are totally overhyped and just disappoint me. there are just so many unfortunate feature requirements for the way i manage, obtain and control my media, i reckon it is no easy challenge. if you’re powering tv with a macmini i’m afraid the best solution out there is still this convoluted setup:

    * TV Shows (app for downloading torrent files)
    * Transmission (bittorrent app with watchfolder support)
    * Remote Buddy (makes the apple remote actually useful)
    * Remote Desktop (for VNCing into the machine to control it – file folder management still rules)
    * Access to private tracker(s) preferably running on top of the projectgazelle codebase
    * Network sharing enabled on the mac mini so you can drop torrents for transmission to auto-kickoff (and can easily copy media back and forth between machines)
    * VLC (video playback software with the default prefs set to open media at fullscreen)

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  7. I see Boxee working for the Mac audience until Apple releases an update for AppleTV with similar feature to eventually kill the product. As for the PC audience they have way too many alternatives to even consider using it. I installed XBMC a while ago on my XBOX until I purchased a Media Center PC and XBOX360 and a Media extender for the living room.

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  8. Can someone fill me in on what their business model is? I was browsing the Roku forums, and the discussion came to having Roku license Boxee, and the obvious response was, “Why bother. Just take it and use it for free because it is open source.”

    Open source can work when you offer paid customer support or load it in a hardware box (like Roku), but I just don’t get how Boxee is going to make money.

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  9. [...] Why Does Everyone Heart Boxee? NewTeeVee readers are well aware of Boxee, but now mainstream news outlets like The New York Times, BusinessWeek and NPR are getting hip to the li’l open source media center that could change the way you watch TV. Boxee CEO and co-founder Avner Ronen stopped by NTV HQ earlier this week and we talked about why Boxee is winning people over (hint: it has something to do with Twitter), future Facebook integration and the next version of the alpha coming out on March 5. Check out the video interview below, and read some lessons other startups can learn from Boxee over at the full story on GigaOM. [...]

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  10. I have a Boxee Alpha account and I find the experience to be a little too disjointed (of course, it is an Alpha, so what do I expect, right?). For a mass audience, the setup and viewing experience has to be drop dead simple. I think the big winner in this space could be Tivo if they play their cards right. I can stream Netflix and Amazon Video through my Tivo right now, without hooking my computer up to my TV, trying to figure out the sound, etc. Today the Tivo streaming experience isn’t as seamlessly integrated into their core DVR functionality as I would like, but it’s pretty darn good. Once all of these sources are integrated nicely and once they add Hulu (please!!) it will be a tough solution to beat in the broader consumer market.

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