Hulu Boxed In by Media Conglomerates
Streaming media site Hulu, often considered a viable alternative to piracy because of its accessible ad-supported content, acknowledged that it took a step backward this week after it was forced to pull its videos from the television media platform Boxee. The move came at the same time that Hulu yanked its content from rival site TV.com because of licensing issues.
The changes prompted cries of disappointment and speculation about the site's future throughout the blogosphere, including an apologetic message by Hulu chief executive officer Jason Kilar. According to his post, Hulu's parent companies (which include NBC and Fox) requested that their content be removed from Boxee, and Hulu reluctantly complied.
"The maddening part of writing this blog entry is that we realize that there is no immediate win here for users," Kilar wrote. "Please know that we take very seriously our role of representing users such that we are able to provide more and more content in more and more ways over time."
Boxee CEO Avner Ronen also expressed disappointment in a blog post, claiming that his company tried to negotiate to keep Hulu on its service after it received notice two weeks prior to losing Hulu's videos. Ronen remained hopeful that Hulu would eventually return. "Our goal has always been to drive users to legal sources of content that are publicly available on the Internet," he said. "We have many content partners who are generating revenue from Boxee users, and we will work with Hulu and their partners to resolve the situation as quickly as possible."
According to CNet, which is owned by TV.com parent CBS, Hulu's decision to drop Boxee as a supported platform had nothing to do with severed ties to TV.com, which had to drop Hulu content following a contractual impasse. Video links for NBC and Fox shows are still prominently displayed on TV.com, but only lead to a message stating "video unavailable."
The underlying reason for Boxee's dismissal isn't clear, but several theories have surfaced. Cable companies have plenty to lose as new media platforms like Boxee usher in a new model for entertainment, according to All Things Digital blogger Peter Kafka, who identified them as a possible culprit that might have exerted pressure on NBC and Fox. Media insider Marc Hedlund speculated that the reason could be much simpler: the two big networks funded Hulu as an advertising-driven Internet platform, and when Boxee ported it back to television with a simple interface, they balked.
Despite the change, technology experts say that platforms like Boxee represent the future of entertainment. The socially oriented service, based on the open source XBMC media center project, can play a wide range of online media through RSS feeds, including Netflix movie streams, YouTube, and Flickr, and offers a simple interface for displaying local media on televisions. The startup is still in development, with alpha releases available for Mac OS X, Linux, and Windows (the latter by invitation only).
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