Digital Home: Boxee’s Ronen: People Don’t Want To ‘Surf’ Their TVs

Avner Ronen, Boxee CEO

As Nielsen’s research showed during the previous Battle for the Digital Home conference panel, hardly anyone is truly cutting their cable cords. But that’s not stopping upstart digital video companies, including executives from Boxee and Roku, from plotting the same course of giving viewers “what they want, when they want it.” That also involves knowing what consumers don’t want. As Avner Ronen, CEO and co-founder of Boxee, noted, when asked about the convergence of online and TV, “People don’t want web browsing on their TV — They’re interested in the content. That’s it.”

Moderator Ernie Sander, executive editor of ContentNext Media, asked the panelists how their companies ultimately differ from the cable companies.

Rovner, who at one point cheekily identified himself as the “12th largest MSO,” said that the key contrast between cable companies and these new video device purveyors is the ability to benefit from social media. “Social media will be bigger than search, because it will impact discovery. That’s what we’re all doing. When people watch videos, it’s mostly from Facebook and Twitter, and that will be the same for how people find premium content.

David Krall, president and COO, Roku, noted something else: the malleability of the broadband delivery systems as represented by his company and Boxee. “Imagine turning on your box and you get whole channels,” Krall said. “It’s a new, fresh experience everyday. Unlike a TV, the software is constantly being updated and upgraded — without having to go out and buy a new device.”

On the other end, though, there’s the issue of dealing with the content creators and networks, as the battle between Cablevision (NYSE: CVC) and Fox over retrans fees highlighted. Jeff Klugman, SVP of products and revenue at TiVo (NSDQ: TIVO), touched on the notion that content has become ubiquitous. “Having a relationship with a particular provider is not all that important anymore,” he said.

But Doug Knopper, co-CEO, Freewheel, clearly disagreed with the view that “content is available everywhere.” Instead, the owner of the content will be able to choose the winners and the losers. “Content will be a big differentiator,” Knopper said. “If Fox finds they get better monetization off of YouTube, you’ll see The Simpsons will be available only on that site and not on another channel. There are going to be places where you don’t find certain programs.”

Speaking of online video sites, Sander asked the panelists who is the one partner they would like to work with. Almost all said Hulu, which is considered a source of frustration for its tight grip on popular programming. “Hulu is the only one with the closed system,” Knopper said.

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