Is the world ready for a home media player that doesn’t have a slot in the front of it? Boxee, the manufacturer of open-source streaming software for televisions (and the hardware to run it), thinks so. The company announced last week that it would be rolling out the $99 Boxee TV, which wants to replace your DVD player with a suite of streaming services, an input jack if you have a cable connection and unlimited cloud storage for $15 a month. That means you can DVR pretty much anything you want and then gain access to it wherever you have an Internet connection.
“The user can record how much he likes and watch it wherever he likes,” explained Boxee CEO Avner Ronen. “Both are changes in the consumption of DVR. We’re taking Boxee from a pure over-the-top product and making it a combination of two products.” Its $15-per-month fee is pointedly a fraction of the average cable subscriber’s bill, and quite a bit of cable content is available by way of Boxee’s supported apps.
Horizon Media’s svp of research, Brad Adgate, observed that Boxee TV seems to be right in line with contemporary trends. “DVD sales have become sluggish,” he said, “and many consumers prefer viewing streaming content to storing it on a DVR’s hard drive.”
There’s a problem here, though. Networks worry that over-the-top services like Netflix are cutting out measurable ad content, so some content producers are leery of streaming. Ronen remained confident on that score. “That world remains a bit opaque for consumers,” he said, “[The industry will] get a bit clearer as over-the-top matures and becomes a bigger part of the content business.” And Adgate agreed that cable companies may have bigger fish to fry, like Barry Diller’s over-the-Web broadcast streaming service, Aereo, and Dish Network’s ad-skipping feature, The Hopper, both of which are currently being litigated. “There is no pushback [on over-the-top] like there was from content providers over Aereo and Hopper,” Adgate said. “So I think there’s room for optimism.”
The other big hurdle is the attempt by cable and satellite operators to curtail streaming services by adding data caps to their customers’ Internet plans. Comcast launched an unpopular attempt to curtail data consumption (it also excluded its own service, Xfinity, from the data allotment) and scrapped it in May, but the idea is still out there. Still, Ronen isn’t worried. “Without regulators getting involved, they may be driven [away from data caps] by market forces,” he said. “But I think if market forces are not going to happen, you’ll have the government looking into it to protect net neutrality.”