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NBC, Hulu Point Fingers in Boxee Blame Game

Hulu roughly a year ago found itself caught between its corporate parents and Boxee, an upstart software company that made it easier for its viewers to watch full-length videos on their TVs. But now it’s in the middle of a fight over whether NBC’s (s GE) merger with Comcast’s (s CMCSA) cable programs could hurt distribution of video online by (for instance) blocking applications like Boxee from accessing that content.

At the time, it was widely reported that those efforts to block Boxee came at the behest of NBC Universal and Fox Broadcasting, both of which are investors in Hulu. But earlier today, in a hearing for the Subcommittee on Communications, Technology and the Internet on the Comcast-NBCU merger, NBC CEO Jeff Zucker testified that the decision to block Boxee users from being able to access content through the company’s media center software came from Hulu management.

“This was a decision made by the Hulu management to, uh, what Boxee was doing was illegally taking the content that was on Hulu without any business deal. And, you know, all, all the, we have several distributors, actually many distributors of the Hulu content that we have legal distribution deals with so we don’t preclude distribution deals. What we preclude are those who illegally take that content,” Zucker said.

That contradicts what Hulu CEO Jason Kilar wrote at the time. In a blog post entitled “Doing Hard Things” in which he explained the situation, Kilar wrote that it was Hulu’s content partners (and stakeholders) that requested the videos be taken off Boxee. Saying that the decision “weighed heavily on the Hulu team,” Kilar wrote:

“Our content providers requested that we turn off access to our content via the Boxee product, and we are respecting their wishes…Without their content, none of what Hulu does would be possible, including providing you content via and our many distribution partner websites.”

Now Boxee is weighing in, saying that both are (kind of) right. In a blog post today, the company’s VP of marketing, Andrew Kippen Boxee CEO Avner Ronen wrote, “Mr. Zucker says the original decision was made by Hulu’s management. That is correct, but as Jason Kilar (Hulu’s CEO) wrote in his post, the request came from NBC.” Kippen Ronen went on to rebut Zucker’s claim that Boxee was “stealing” NBC’s content, pointing out that its software merely emulates a web browser, showing the same ads and allowing Hulu’s content partners to monetize their content in the same way they could if the end user was watching the content through Firefox or another browser.

As for Zucker’s claim that NBC is open to negotiations to make its content available on Boxee, Kippen Ronen wrote, “That has not been our experience.” Even so, he said Boxee would of course be interested in striking a deal with both Comcast and NBCU “to bring more content on more devices to our users.”

9 Responses to “NBC, Hulu Point Fingers in Boxee Blame Game”

  1. NBC, FOX, Hulu and anyone else who thinks they can create proprietary devices that discriminate against certain products or services will find out just how big of a “no-no” that will be for them.

    Discrimination is discrimination… if you want to discriminate, don’t be suprised if you get a lesson learned the hard way. This argument is over control of money… nothing else. Anyone who thinks future legislation will allow for the inherent discrimination of other products will be shocked to find subpoenas at their doors one day for blocking the flow of publicly available internet traffic.

    Arguing the “small things” to try and justify discrimination is horrifying and despicable… if you make something publicly available on the internet, then it is accessible to all. No if’s, and’s or but’s! If Hulu wants to get in the IPTV market, then they need to make a Hulu-box or close the website if they don’t like it.

    • The ridiculous thing about all this is that anyone running Boxee already has a TV hooked up to their computer. Pulling Hulu from Boxee doesn’t keep their content off of TVs, it just makes it more difficult for a large segment of potential users to view it – including Hulu’s ads. If they really wanted it off TVs they would get rid of the Hulu desktop software. :)

  2. Boxee’s comments, however, are not accurate. Boxee operates as a browser in some ways, but not others.

    When a Hulu video is loaded, Boxee forces the video to full screen, thereby preventing the Hulu site branding and additional content from being displayed.

    So in a sense, Zucker was exactly right. The rest of Hulu’s real estate is essentially suppressed, in favor of Boxee’s look ad feel.

    No other browser hides the Hulu real estate absent a specific decision by the user operating the browser. So it doesn’t behave exactly like Firefox or IE.

    • Enough! I’m sick of seeing you posting all over and giving minimal facts. You need to mention the full sory.

      Hulu said the conent providers didn’t want boxee to have access and the content providers now say Hulu doesn’t want boxee to have access. If it was because the video loaded full screen then they would have said it.

      The ads are all there and Boxee has tried to work to meet any other requirements.

      The content providers are ignorant and think they know more then the customer. The customer loses again.

      • I feel the troll comments are well in order. One issue rests in that Hulu previously streamed a user’s cue from start to finish, without having to individually click/choose shows (although it still will play a continuous stream of the same show). I have yet to attempt an rss feed on the new Boxee.

        However, Kevin and Maskman are correct, once maximized, the issue about branding and packaging are moot. The screen IS in full. The Hulu icon continues to display in the lower left corner, so Michael’s explanations are bald.

        I am not supportive of “stealing” content, but this is hardly that. Removing Hulu access from Boxee could have been a competitive move, but if it is anything other than that, it is puerile. The workarounds are all coming, but I hardly have the time to deal with recoding on something so lame as this. A 3rd party can assist with the interpretive streams and boom: you’ve a workaround. Just a couple of linked icons…

        Playing this whole game is lame though; I’ll be reading a book.

  3. Hulu management knows that Boxee is different from other points of distribution, not just because they are on the TV, but because their mission is essentially the same – to aggregate all premium content (whether or not they host it), and that the winning aggregator will likely take most of the audience. Boxee doesn’t yet have the brand or backing of Hulu, but they do have something powerful that Hulu doesn’t: the ability to aggregate Hulu and non-Hulu content into a holistic offering. Jason Kilar (Hulu CEO) gets this, saw them as a potential threat, knew that removing Hulu’s exclusive content would level the playing field, and made a smart defensive move. Zucker played bad cop and Kilar told a white lie. Whether or not Zucker agreed with it or even demanded it is secondary.