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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.

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  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.

  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.

  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.

  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…

  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.

  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)

  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.

  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.

  9. Why Does Everyone Heart Boxee? « NewTeeVee Friday, February 6, 2009

    [...] 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. [...]

  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.

  11. Chris Albrecht Friday, February 6, 2009

    @Jim,

    Ronen said Boxee is more focused on building an audience this year (they have the cash to wait). Once they have an audience the company is looking at affiliate models so as Boxee drives traffic to places, it can earn money from that.

  12. For what it’s worth, I did an analysis of the Apple-centered media center space, looking at Apple TV, Boxee and Square Connect (a universal remote vendor focused on iPhone/iPod touch as controller) from a good, bad, ugly and wish list perspective.

    Check it out if interested:

    What it Means to be a “Social” Media Center: Boxee, Apple TV and Square Connect
    http://thenetworkgarden.com/weblog/2008/12/what-it-means-to-be-a-social-media-center-boxee-apple-tv-and-square-connect-.html

    Mark

  13. @Craig V

    I agree with you. I also have an account and find the service to be just OK. No WOW experience, but, then again, all they are really doing is building a link library. I wish Boxee the best of luck.

    btw – If the core target audience are those that have Apple Mini’s this thing will fall flat on its face. They should carefully manage that marketing message.

  14. jonathanhstrauss Friday, February 6, 2009

    Boxee seems great, but not particularly revolutionary. If they’re competing on intuitive UI design, then I think (and as others have commented) it’s only a matter of time before Apple steamrolls them (a personal historical example would be Konfabulator and Mac Dashboard). But, I think the current differentiation is based primarily on giving users the features and content they want in the form they want it, which is mostly a function of Boxee not being encumbered by the legacy business models of the incumbents.

    This story sounds a lot like another one I heard a few years back, about an upstart company revolutionizing the living room with a new product that everybody wanted — the DVR, or TiVo as it was called back then. There was nothing revolutionary about the product itself besides the fact that it finally found a way to get to market, since it was the kind of product that undermined the legacy business models of the incumbents (i.e. the networks hated it, so the cable companies couldn’t offer it). But once TiVo let the genie out of the bottle, there was nothing keeping the incumbents out anymore and it turned out TiVo didn’t have enough secret sauce to keep from being commoditized.

    I’d be delighted to be proven wrong, but I have a hard time seeing a different future for Boxee.

  15. I agree that the UI needs a lot of work, but the potential of this product is why I’m sticking with it. I stream video over SMB back to my iMac and Airport Extreme (all wirelessly) and it works. It’s much nicer to view on the 52″ than on the 24″ screen in my home office. I think they got the right idea and I think that over time the product will become easier to use and even more useful.

  16. I love Boxee because it aggregates all the free, online TV in one consistent interface. But I hate the interface itself. It’s far too fancy. I’d much prefer a FrontRow interface to all that content. Hey, now that’s an idea!!

  17. “I just don’t get how Boxee is going to make money.”

    Then, you, Jim, are an idiot.

  18. One way Boxee will monetize is they will revenue share with services that they officially integrate and they do this with Joost who gave the Boxee developers full access to their APIs and have a partnership with them .

    Im sure as Boxee moves forward and becomes even more popular that companies like HULU and Netflix will see the value proposition that Boxee offers as well as lowering their own development costs in getting their services into the living room.

    Now I have to add Om as a Boxee friend.

  19. I agree with some of the posts, boxee actually kind of stinks. Ugly and difficult to navigate. BUT. It runs nicely on my AppleTV. And even though the interface is awful compared to Apples, the software is much more flexible. I’m not reliant on iTunes and I don’t have to convert everything to mp4.
    Also everyone likes boxee because its a good interface to Hulu, look how many people mentioned that in the comments. Its all about the content!

  20. I want to love boxee. I really really do. BUT….the user experience is PAINFUL. I can’t figure it out. (i mean seriously, why doesn’t the esc button work to get the damn thing to bring back my desktop? why why why!!!!)

    For now I’m just keeping it around so that I can continue to get the updates and know that eventually (particularly with their new focus on UX) they’ll figure it.

  21. Boycott Novell » Links 06/02/2009: Fedora 11 Previews, New RPM Release Friday, February 6, 2009

    [...] Why Does Everyone Heart Boxee? 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. [...]

  22. I got a chance to try the alpha version of Boxee recently and I can certainly understand the buzz around it. With a little bit more work I could almost be convinced to give up my paid cable and switch to free ad based internet streams through Boxee. Unfortunately, it’s still not quite there yet so I’m still on Media Center with my cable subscription and a tuner card.

  23. I just finished installing Boxee and company on my Apple TV. From the end user perspective it went well – build the patchsticK ON A USB THUMB DRIVE, then put it in the USB port in the back of your apple, next to the power sot, press Menu and “-” and behold! My beef with Boee is what others are saying – there are no links to outside content that are readily visible to the user – one really must dig in and larn the interface – which is entirely UNLIKE Apple TV. I was also hoping that Boxee would have included support for playing TiVo files – THAT would have made it a perfect companion tech gadget for the peole who already have TiVo – you sell them a little box tht lets them archive ALL their favortite shows, in background, to a server, and then they can have them streamed back to them at any time. Now THAT would be really, really useful!

  24. I’ve been using Boxee for about 3-4 months now on my HTPC w/ Xubuntu. I have torrentflux-b4rt setup on the same machine to auto-download torrents and Boxee auto-adds them to my library. As a previous user of MythTV I must say that Boxee is absolutely amazing. For all of you front-row people complaining about the UI – you’re spoiled. Boxee may not be up to par with Apple’s UI design, but try using MythTV for a while and you’ll understand just how good Boxee is.

    I also must say that with each alpha release Boxee becomes more and more stable (at least on my system) – I was having quite a few segfaults for a while, but it seems to be running very smoothly – and it plays just about any file format I throw at it.

    I think an important part of any good software project is the community and if you visit the forums you’ll see that Boxee already has a responsive, and generally friendly and helpful community which is a complete bonus.

    Love live the Boxee!

  25. Boxee is awesome and remember people, it is only in its Alpha stage!!! We live in an age of instant gratification where we have to have everything and right now but patience pays off :-) By the time it is ready for final release, I believe the average end user will be blown away with the final product. A revolution is in the making!

    Peace,

    Tranceparance :-)

  26. Boxee is merely hype: it’s a gloss on the open-source audio-video software XBMC, which I’ve been running for over two years on an old Xbox. See: http://lifehacker.com/396382/boxee-is-xbmc-with-newer-look-and-social-flair

    There are already multiple XBMC versions available, including two for the Mac which can be loaded onto AppleTV — the “official” one from xbmc.org and Plex (http://www.plex.com)

    So I’m not sure that “everyone” loves Boxee — I’ve tried it, and see no improvement over the latest XBMC– nor do I see the benefit of the “social” aspects of it. I don’t want or need others to know which movies/tv shows/music I’m playing right now. I can tell the myself if I think they should check them out.

  27. @Leigh, the reason that the [esc] key doesn’t work is because there isn’t one on any remote. Remember that the controls for Boxee are based around remote controls. The fact that you can click [tab] to get into a windowed interface is just a “nicety”. If you were using Boxee on an AppleTV or any other hardware device you wouldn’t need [tab] or [esc]

    As for those who have commented on what they “want” or think Boxee “needs”, head to the forums http://forum.boxee.tv and speak your mind. They listen.

  28. @Simon: XBMC can’t stream Netflix, Hulu or most anything else Boxee can do.

  29. chris,

    thanks for the love!

    btw, you’re giving me too much credit.
    boxee is a true team effort and the result is a mash-up between team-boxee and user feedback.

    it’s a great experience working on boxee and it means a lot to us to have such great support from our users.

    avner

  30. It’s a good start but I too find it confusing. For now I’ve got all the content I need on my HDTV thanks to Hulu, Joost, Fancast and Zipityzap.

    PCTVCables.com

  31. Why Does Everyone Love Boxee? | google android os blog Saturday, February 7, 2009

    [...] buzz has been building for Boxee lately," writes Chris Albrecht at GigaOm. "Mainstream news outlets like The New York Times, BusinessWeek and NPR are getting hip to the [...]

  32. Could anyone please explain why it’s superior to Mediaportal? It’s also open source and works great.

  33. Call me a Boxee fanboy if you want, but I’ve been waiting for a solution like this for a while now and I love what I see. Granted, there are several UI issues, but none have been deal breakers for me. In fact, my 4 year old daughter has figured out how to navigate to her collection of shows, so it can’t be all that confusing.

    I like that I no longer have to spend hours and hours converting files. I like that movie/tvshow artwork and descriptions are quietly added when files are indexed (more often than not). The built-in bittorrent is promising. And I love that I can flip back to my ATV UI at any time.

    I can live with the lags for now. Mostly because I know they’ll disappear as improvements are made. AND once I/we crack the IP blocking for non-US users things will really take off, for me.

    Setup: ATV+Boxee+1TB NAS & MBP+Boxee

  34. We have Boxee running on an old Dell we picked up for $50 of Cragslist, added a nice graphics card, and connected to our Sony HDTV. We do Not have cable (too expensive), only our internet connection and collection of ripped DVDs (Proudly, we own every DVD on their). Boxee shows promise to unite all the websites we manually navigate with one interface browseable via remote control (need to add that) instead of the trackpad equipped keyboard on our couch. It has many nice features, but the beta still crashes too often (still beta after all).

  35. @Tyler — yes, it can stream Hulu, via a Plug-in: http://lifehacker.com/5134070/simple-plug+in-brings-hulu-to-your-xbmc

    and for Netflix, by using PlayOn: http://www.themediamall.com/playon

    XBMC can also do a number of things that Boxee can’t– such as use multiple, customizable interfaces; run extensions via Python scripts;

  36. Apartment Practical Newsletter Feb/March 2009 « Apartment Practical NYC Real Estate Monday, February 9, 2009

    [...] big WOW factor happens as you step up your Home Technology know-how ability.  The Boxee program can be added to your Apple TV and then you can actually watch HDTV programs like Hulu, which nearly [...]

  37. I got an alpha account… and I don’t see what the big deal is. Miro2.0 seems a bit easier — even if it doesn’t have the fancy extras like Netflix integration… There’s a lot of room for improvement (I know it’s alpha, but… it’s not grabbing my attention yet). But good luck to Boxee, I hope they *do* improve… But I’m not sure where their business model is headed.

  38. Say Goodbye to Hulu on Boxee « NewTeeVee Wednesday, February 18, 2009

    [...] a pretty big blow to New-York-based Boxee, which had no formal relationship with Hulu and was just gaining some traction with users. It also highlights how Boxee, like Hulu, is not entirely in control of its own destiny [...]

  39. On Hulu and Boxee or Sometimes it sucks to be right | StraussBlog Wednesday, February 18, 2009

    [...] little under two weeks ago in a comment on a GigaOM post about Boxee, I wrote: I think [Boxee's] current differentiation is based primarily on giving users the features [...]

  40. Whoops! Hulu Removed (Again) from Boxee « NewTeeVee Friday, March 6, 2009

    [...] out from the Apple TV requiring the user to reinstall. Will this tug of war cause people to fall out of love with Boxee as content appears then [...]

  41. Boxee – show me the mobile… « DigitalStructures Monday, March 30, 2009

    [...] Sources: http://news.cnet.com/8301-17939_109-10100923-2.html?tag=mncol; http://gigaom.com/2009/02/06/why-does-everyone-heart-boxee/: http://arstechnica.com/apple/news/2008/12/boxee-to-open-not-quite-beta-media-center-in-january.ars [...]

  42. Webisodes are Dead, Long Live Webisodes! « @ the intersection Monday, July 20, 2009

    [...] option is to compete on the networks’ terms by delivering webisodes to TV. Services like Boxee and even Hulu are providing web-based interfaces that are meant to be experienced through [...]

  43. I think Boxee is very interesting development due to it’s social media center aspect that might redefine the way how we watch TV in the future. While the user recommendation system is an unique idea, the user interface is not yet ready for the mainstream: http://mymediaexperience.com/boxee-social-media-center/

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