Boxee’s spat with cable companies over their desire to encrypt basic cable programming got a lot of press this week, but one interesting detail hasn’t been reported yet: A publicly available copy of Boxee’s most recent filing with the FCC (PDF) contains large sections of blacked-out content. An accompanying letter (PDF) describes that this measure was necessary to conceal “confidential commercial information regarding Boxee’s business plan, technology and product pipeline.” The folks at the FCC obviously got the unredacted filing, but the rest of us are left wondering, What exactly is Boxee working on?
“We’re not ready to discuss our future product roadmap . . . but it was a useful tool to demonstrate to the FCC where innovation is headed in the TV space for both over the top and over the air/QAM,” we were told by Boxee VP of Marketing Andrew Kippen. The filing itself also states that “both the Boxee Box with Live TV and the products under development provide consumers with competitive alternatives to traditional pay cable delivered via rented set top boxes.” Of course, one could argue that any over-the-top offering with access to online sources like Netflix (s NFLX) can be an alternative to your cable box — but that is already true for the existing Boxee Box. The need to black out two entire paragraphs in the filing leads me to believe that Boxee is instead working on additional ways to access and consume over-the-air broadcast and cable TV.
So what does it have in store for us? Here are some possibilities:
- DVR functionality. This has been the most-requested feature ever since the Boxee Live TV tuner came out earlier this year. The tuner currently only displays what’s airing at any given time, but a software update and an attached hard disc could turn the combination of Boxee Box and Live TV tuner into a full-fledged DVR.
- A Boxee TV. Viewsonic was supposed to release a TV set powered by Boxee last year, but it scrapped its plan when consumer demand for smart TVs didn’t materialize. Of course, that doesn’t mean that another TV manufacturer couldn’t fill the gap. A TV with a built-in tuner would obviously also have access to Boxee Live TV and as such be impacted by any attempt to encrypt basic cable.
- A revamped Boxee Box with internal storage. This would go well with any DVR offering, in part because not every consumer wants to have an external hard drive and a USB dongle dangling from their Boxee Box. Of course, it would also be possible to directly add the TV tuner to the Box. But this could bring costs up even further, so I would expect this to be sold separately for the foreseeable future. Iomega is already selling a Boxee device with a hard drive in Europe, but the company told us it doesn’t have any plans to bring the device to the U.S.
- A cable set-top box. Yes, you read that correctly. Boxee has been big on cord cutting rhetoric lately, but the company is reportedly also talking to smaller cable operators about using Boxee’s platform as an alternative to the traditional cable box. This could be done with the existing Boxee Box and a Live TV tuner, but one could also imagine slightly revamped hardware that could offer subscribers online video, basic cable channels and a DVR for a small monthly fee, much like Sezmi used to offer. But instead of selling it directly to consumers, Boxee would offer the device through a regional cable company.
We will likely have to wait a while until we know what the company has up its sleeve. However, the success of the Live TV tuner — the device is currently sold out and on back order — shows that the company is clearly on to something here. And while the list of possible products above is admittedly pure speculation, it goes to show that there is a lot of potential for Boxee to innovate in this space.