Will Opening Up Keep Vudu From Closing Down?

Download movie service provider Vudu announced today that it’s expanding its set-top box to deliver web video directly to TVs, as well as opening up to allow outside developers create applications for the device.

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The new Vudu Rich Internet Applications (RIA) platform will broaden the company’s set-top box capabilities, enabling it to deliver web video from YouTube and network sites like those of NBC and ABC; display photos from Flickr and Picasa; as well as some casual games. Vudu owners can check out a sampling of new functionality today at the new Vudu Labs section of the Vudu home page.

Sounds a lot like Boxee, the open-source media center that enables much of the same functionality (plus Netflix streaming), and can run on Macs, PCs and even the Apple TV. Heck, the Boxee community might just port itself over to the Vudu box as well.

Opening up its box is a smart move, but will it be the gambit that pushes Vudu, which has never really caught on with consumers, into the mainstream?

You gotta give the company an “A” for effort. Over the course of this year it’s tried just about everything to get people to buy: price cuts on the box, porn, a 99-cent bargain rental bin, adding 1,000 HD titles, a new HDX high-def format, and a high-end XL2 box for home theaters.

In the meantime, however, the company laid off 15 percent of its staff at the end of August, followed by the departure of CEO Mark Jung in November. And Vudu won’t release stats, which always makes us suspicious.

Vudu’s bigger problem is that it’s always been expensive, unknown, and only did one thing. It costs $299 for the standard box, which, up until today, would only play Vudu movies. An Apple TV on the other hand, costs $229, and let you access your music, photos and YouTube video. Granted, the Vudu box has way more storage, but which brand are you going to trust to be around for awhile?

Vudu still has an uphill climb, especially in this econo-pocalypse we’re all suffering through right now, but leveraging the developer-sphere to create new uses for itself will make it more appealing.

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