Peter Kafka

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Boxee CEO Avner Ronen Gets a Crash Course in the TV Business

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When I first met Avner Ronen in January, the Boxee CEO was beaming. His Web video company was one of the breakout hits at the Consumer Electronics Show.

But when I had lunch with Ronen yesterday, he was much more subdued. Going head-to-head against the TV establishment can take the wind out of you.

In the span of two months, Boxee has gone from obscure start-up to an irritant or worse for the TV business.

That’s because Boxee, which makes it easy to sort and play video you grab from the Web, symbolizes a real threat for the established players: That one day, many consumers will consume most of their TV via video they find on the Web. And then they’ll cut TV networks and cable operators out of the picture.

That’s a long way from happening, but just the notion of it seemed to be enough for GE’s (GE) NBC and News Corp.’s (NWS) Fox, which apparently forced their Hulu joint venture to stop working with Boxee last month.

Now Hulu and Boxee are in a cat-and-mouse game, whereby Boxee’s engineers try to find ways to get Hulu’s stuff onto their browsers and the Hulu guys try to stop them. (News Corp. is the owner of Dow Jones, which owns this Web site.)

Ronen isn’t optimistic that this is going to change anytime soon. He also says the past few months have taught him how little he knew about the media business prior to starting Boxee in 2007. Had he known how entrenched and complicated the relationships between broadcasters, programmers, cable networks and cable operators are, he says, he might never have tried to get the company going.

But Ronen still figures he’ll thrive in the long run. He notes that some big media companies that aren’t NBC and Fox–Netflix (NFLX) and Disney’s (DIS) ABC, for instance–have been happy to work with Boxee, or at least not to complain about the service.

I’ll let him explain why, and lay out Boxee’s future plans (which included a beta launch this summer and Boxee-enabled devices next year) in this video interview.

And if, like me, you’re going to be in Austin for South By Southwest on Saturday, you can ask him yourself, at a panel discussion where he’ll share the stage with College Humor’s Ricky Van Veen and B.J. Novak of “The Office.”


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