Boxee rolled up in the UK this week, but it must be quick to make its presence felt, writes Julian Clover.
Time was when a Radio 1 DJ would be mobbed when he made a personal appearance. On Tuesday, the network’s Huw Stephens was still feeling all those 45s, but otherwise was in the background at Boxee’s UK debut.
With $16.5 million in the bank from its spring financing it seems unlikely that Boxee will stay in the background for long, but has its time already passed? When the over-the-top product released its first public alpha software in June 2008 the TV manufacturers still had their minds on HDTV and the launch of 3D product. Three years later and Boxee has its own Boxee box that can be used instead of the PC or a ‘jailbroken’ Apple TV product.
But the TV manufacturers have now decided that connected TV, or smart TV as they would love to have us call them, is where the action is. Moreover, the introduction of the MHEG Interaction Channel, HbbTV, and manufacturers’ own proprietary systems will ensure that any mid-range DTT set-top will be able to pull in the BBC iPlayer, Uitzending Gemist and SVT Play.
Boxee’s marketing man Andrew Kippen says there are two distinct groups that make up the typical Boxee user. There’s the tech savvy bachelor, in his 20s, who uses the internet to pull in his TV content. The second is the 30-something family man who is looking to save money on his pay-TV subscription, that mythical cord-cutter we hear about everywhere apart from financial presentations.
Boxee is an early iteration of what pay-TV companies are lining up for us, the Twitter integration, the ability to watch YouTube on the big screen, and assorted widgets that have been created by the open source community.
Playing with my own Boxee unit I was able to pull in content from all the UK’s terrestrial broadcasters, along with Irish, Dutch and Swedish channels, but to date it isn’t Granny-friendly.
Where Boxee has scored is through the creation of a single point for payments. Using Vindicia its straightforward strategy is the opposite of that proposed by YouView, which will leave payments up to individual broadcast partners. But first Boxee has to attract the likes of Lovefilm to give it a worthwhile premium offer.
But hasn’t everyone else got Lovefilm? Or the BBC iPlayer, which now returns to Boxee, for that matter. ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5, which I added through Boxee’s repository system, are not official applications so are not present straight out of the box in the way of the iPlayer.
There are other standalone streaming units around too, such as the Onyx Streambox (which already has an agreement with Lovefilm), and for the consumer who doesn’t want a new TV just yet Onyx or Boxee are a worthwhile solution. Pulling content off the web is not really a sustainable business option for anyone.