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Boxee Offers New Enticement For Cord Cutters: Broadcast Channels

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When people think about ditching their cable or satellite subscriptions in favor of one of the growing number of internet-connected set-top boxes, one of things that gives them pause is the idea of losing access to live TV. Now Boxee, one of the companies encouraging TV watchers to cut the cord, has added a feature that addresses that concern.

Boxee’s Live TV dongle, available for pre-order for $50 device, connects the Boxee Box streaming device (via USB port) to an ATSC antenna, allowing users to access the HD signals of over-the-air broadcast channels including the Big Five Networks.

Now, in addition to streaming video content from platforms like Netflix (NSDQ: NFLX) and Vudu, Boxee users can watch those episodes of Big Bang Theory they’ve been missing. (But Boxee still doesn’t have a digital video recorder option to time-shift this kind of viewing.) And as TechCrunch noted Tuesday, those who get their broadband service through cable providers might also be able to access a handful of basic-cable channels by porting the cable feed through the device. Boxee also released the latest version of its device software, which includes a new user interface to support these channel inputs, among other refinements.

Boxee, which says it has 2 million registered users, ranks third in the so-called over-the-top (OTT) set-top box category, behind Apple (NSDQ: AAPL) TV and Roku. Boxee’s market share is only a small slice of a total category user base that the company says numbers about 15 million. The company argues that its newest enhancements will help it justify having the highest price point in the category — D-Link’s Boxee Box sells for $180. “In one fell swoop, Live TV has allowed us to add 89 of the top 100 shows to Boxee, and to create a seamless experience between broadcast and internet content that Roku and Apple TV can’t match,” Boxee VP of marketing Andrew Kippen told us.

For their part, cable and satellite providers have sensed the threat from the new competition, and have tried to beef up their own product offerings like digital video recording. And while TV services like DirecTV have continued to raise prices across the board, they’ve begun allowing some customers who threaten them with cord-cutting to renegotiate their monthly rates (this reporter was able to have his bill reduced by the satellite carrier from $87 to $57 in December using that leverage).

How widespread is cord cutting? Bain Capital, in figures released last year, found the trend is still in its very early stages. However, the company’s research also determined that one-third of cable and satellite subscribers would give up their subscription for the right alternative. Bain also found that 13 percent of subscribers would prefer a “cable light” option, whereby they access only a handful of basic-cable channels for a much lower price.