Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

Boxee Sells Live TV (That You Already Get for Free) With a Big Dose of Cord-Cutting Rhetoric

Boxee has a new $50 gadget that makes it easier to toggle between broadcast TV and Web video options. CEO Avner Ronen has a blog post explaining/selling the doodad, but for me the rollout is a good chance to get Ronen to update us on the state of Boxee, and “over the top”/cable-free video in general. (Also, a good chance to say “dongle.” Always fun.)

Over the past few years, Ronen has flipped back and forth as he positions his company. Initially, he sold Boxee’s software as a way to help nerds watch video without having to pay for cable; then, as he attracted the attention — and ire — of many TV programmers he wanted to work with, he toned that rhetoric down.

Now he’s turned it back up. “This is a cord-cutting device,” he says in person, and the company’s marketing materials drive that home (see the image above).

Ronen claims that 2 million people a month use some combination of his gadget or his software. He says half of them have either cut the cord or never bought one in the first place — that is, they’ve never paid Comcast, Time Warner Cable or anyone else for a video subscription (though they’re almost certainly paying them for broadband).

Pitching yourself as the cord-cutter’s pal is an excellent way to attract attention, but it will make it hard to ever make headway with the big content guys who make a lot of money from cable.

Perhaps that has something to do with the fact that while Boxee announced it had a deal with Hulu a year ago, the video service’s subscription service has yet to appear on Ronen’s box. (Reminder: Hulu is still owned by a joint venture that includes Disney, Comcast and News Corp., which also owns this site.)

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I think the NSA has a job to do and we need the NSA. But as (physicist) Robert Oppenheimer said, “When you see something that is technically sweet, you go ahead and do it and argue about what to do about it only after you’ve had your technical success. That is the way it was with the atomic bomb.”

— Phil Zimmerman, PGP inventor and Silent Circle co-founder, in an interview with Om Malik