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At first, the kerfuffle involving the way startup Boxee used clever software to bring Hulu’s Internet TV service to TV sets was rather gentlemanly. Hulu asked Boxee to remove it, and explained why in a blog post that was almost apologetic–and which pretty much blamed it all on Hollywood content owners. Boxee thoughtfully replied in a post of its own–and complied. Unfortunate, yes, but civil.
And then Boxee cleverly used Hulu’s public RSS to bring back access to Hulu content. This time, there was no socratic dialog or genteel request–Hulu blocked Boxee from accessing its feeds.
I’m still sorting out my feelings here–the contrarian in me still believes in Letting People Make Their Own Damn Mistakes–but there’s no question that Hulu’s actions run contrary to the spirit of RSS feeds (which were designed to let folks access contact from whatever tool they pleased) and are a setback for Internet TV’s migration from the computer onto the TV. Which is a migration that’s inevitable, and a boon for consumers.
So I know who I’m ultimately rooting for here: Boxee and Boxee users (the latter group of which includes…me). Hulu hasn’t addressed this latest twist on its blog, but I hope it does so–it’s a company that’s built up a lot of cred for being surprisingly with-it for an enterprise formed by major media conglomerates, and it would be sad to see it backslide into a mode that’s paranoid, obtuse, and resistant to technological developments that help more people get at the cool things it’s doing.
One way or another, an awful lot of us will be watching Hulu or Hulu-like services on our TVs. Boxee is intrepid and innovative, and I hope it gets the opportunity to play a major role in getting us there…
[UPDATE: Dave Zatz right in the comments when he says this tug of war will be ongoing–Boxee is reporting in its blog that the Hulu feed is working again. For now.]
Talks have so far proven unsuccessful between Hulu and Boxee after the online TV giant asked the media-center software startup to remove its service from its application for Macs, Apple TV, and Windows. (I’m guessing Hulu’s owners’ pet project is playing a part here), but the set-top box company has come up with a temporary workaround. Boxee’s calling it “bleeding edge.” Translation: its’s not even beta, so don’t expect it to work 100% — but it at least brings back some of the content from Hulu to the service.
Essentially, developers have opened up the service to accept RSS feeds with video. Hulu offers some of these feeds, which make it possible to stream the video included in these fees. It is not limited to Hulu: services that use RSS such as Google Video, Yahoo!, and YouTube are also compatible, as well as many other Web sites.
Also new is an “App Store” of sorts, which is being released with this update, as well as an automatic updating feature. Users would now be prompted to download software updates when they are released.
The iPhone is really an iManyThings: iCommunicator, iMusicPlayer, iGameConsole, and iRemoteControl. I’d love it to be an iTV, too–a rich source of on-demand television shows from broadcast and cable networks that stream live over its Net connection and (unlike the stuff Apple sells via iTunes) don’t cost anything. Little by little, that’s happening. Back in November, Joost released an iPhone app, and today it was was joined by a TV.com one, featuring new and old content from CBS and sister networks–from CSI to David Letterman to Gossip Girl to The Bold and the Beautiful to MacGyver to the original Star Trek to tech stuff from Cnet.
The single most interesting thing about TV.com’s app–to me, anyhow–isn’t the content, but the fact that you can stream it over any iPhone connection you’ve got, including Wi-Fi, 3G, and 2G. Joost is limited to Wi-Fi, and while it uses that speedy connection to provide surprisingly high-quality images, the times when I’m most likely to have Wi-Fi is when I’m at home, in close proximity to my TV set. The TV.com programming I checked out didn’t look as good as Joost’s, and some of the audio was tinny. I can’t tell to what degree TV.com adjusts its quality level to match the connection you’ve got: David Letterman looked and sounded a tad better over Wi-Fi than on 3G, but Star Trek seemed about the same on 2G as Wi-Fi–it just loaded faster over Wi-Fi. On the plus side, I didn’t notice any hiccups or buffering issues with the video or audio–even over 2G, playback was smooth.
Speaking of speed, the TV.com app feels sluggish to me so far unless I’m on Wi-Fi–not just the videos, but other graphical images such as thumbnails pop into place at a leisurely pace. The search feature could use some work, too: When I searched for “Star Trek,” the results page didn’t show the episode titles, so I had to click through to see what was what.
TV.com touts that it streams full episodes of shows as well as clips, and that’s true–but all the full shows I saw had been broken up into chunks of a few minutes each. I’m not sure whether that’s for technical reasons or simply because TV.com thinks that iPhone users are more likely to want to snack on shows a bite or two at time than watch them from start to finish.
As with Joost’s iPhone incarnation, I’m pleased to see TV.com landing on the iPhone, but more than anything else, it whets my appetite for what a Hulu iPhone app could be, given that Hulu has by far the strongest content lineup of any free TV streaming site. There’s no word yet if or when Hulu might land on iPhones. But I’m also eager to see Sling’s SlingPlayer Mobile for the iPhone–and that, supposedly, may be just around the corner.
I remain confident that the iPhone is going to become a great mobile TV sooner or later, but I’m still not sure about how or when…
After the jump, a few images from TV.com for iPhone:
I’ve been remiss in not updating you on my experiment in using an Apple TV with Boxee’s media-center software as a substitute for my pricey Comcast service. “Life Without Comcast” may be a misleading title, since I haven’t tried to go cold turkey–instead, I’ve done some of my TV watching via cable, and some via the Internet, and have been comparing the two experiences as I did so.
So far, my main conclusion is that these two ways to consume video content are just…different. To wit:
Cable isn’t a victim of the Hulu-Boxee debacle. The single thing that played the biggest role in making my Apple TV/Boxee setup a plausible Comcast substitute was the fact that it let my watch Hulu, the Web’s leading source of broadcast TV programming. Last week, however, Hulu reluctantly asked Boxee to remove its Hulu support, and Boxee complied. End result: A lot of mainstay cable TV programming is no longer available on Boxee. True, it still has Joost, CBS, and other content providers, and Apple TV offers a wealth of for-pay movies and TV shows (as well as some stuff for free, in podcast form). But if I’d known that I wouldn’t be able to view Hulu on my TV, I would have been a lot less gung-ho about this whole experiment.
Cable is still a must for news junkies. Live streaming of broadcast news coverage over the Internet is rare, and often iffy when it does occur. Podcasts are available of some shows, but they’re always delayed, and often cut down. So I’m still doing much of my consuming of news via various all-news channels. And when major stories break, I still want the option of turning on the TV and surfing the coverage on multiple stations.
Cable is a heck of a lot closer to being glitch-free. Most means of watching video across the Internet are subject to at least occasional hiccups, and some are crippled by technical problems–especially when wireless networking is involved. Even Netflix’s slick and appealing Watch Instantly service has its issues: I tried to watch Network via it on my TiVo HD (see below) last night, and the soundtrack was out of sync with the image by about three seconds. With cable, I can be reasonably confident that the stuff I want to watch will work–and keep working until I’m done watching it.
HD is cool. And while I can get some HD content on Apple TV, it’s still a relative rarity. (Blocky YouTube-like video, on the other hand, is in plentiful supply.) When I want to watch high-def, Comcast has far more to offer.
Financially, cable is woefully inefficient. At least for someone like me who doesn’t really gorge on TV. For every hour of cable programming I watch and enjoy, I’m paying for hundreds of stations of absolutely zero interest to me. (Sorry, Fox Soccer Channel, MTV Jams, ZeeTV, and Sprout.) The movies and TV shows that Apple delivers through Apple TV aren’t free, but they’re all a la carte.
Cable has a short attention span. Yesterday, I set up a TiVo HD, a few months after my beloved old standard-def TiVo more or less croaked on me. As part of get it up and running, I had to program it to record stuff I like–and I was startled by how many of the old sitcoms I dig are no longer available on cable. Dick Van Dyke, Mary Tyler Moore, and Bob Newhart are off the air…but they’re all on Hulu. And even if I can’t watch them on my Apple TV anymore, they’re available on my laptop.
Cable is available in one place. On the TV in my living room–unless I pay for extra set-top boxes. Or use a Slingbox (which, full disclosure, I do) to put it elsewhere. All the Internet TV I can get on Boxee is also available on all of my computers. Some of it’s on my iPhone, too, and over time I’m sure that all of it will be phone-friendly.
Cable is tied to a schedule. Yes, Comcast offers some shows and movies via its OnDemand video-on-demand service, and you can rent a Comcast DVR or buy something like a TiVo to watch your favorite stuff at any time. But you’re still going to miss some stuff you wanted to see because you forgot about it, or were busy when it was on. On the Web, by contrast, the default state of video programming is on demand: You can watch the last episode of Late Night With Conan O’Brien whenever you feel like it, and even if your DVR hasn’t been set to record Conan since the last millennium.
Bottom line: So far, at least, this little adventure hasn’t left me feeling like I can drop cable without missing it. At least not yet, and not via Boxee in its de-Hulued state. I’m continuing with the experiment, though, and will continue to write about it. You gotta think that Internet TV is going to evolve and improve rapidly over the next year or two, while cable is likely to stay pretty much like it is today.
Oh, and I am considering dropping the Comcast phone service I signed up for when I moved into my new home last summer–but that’s a subject for another post….
Silicon Alley Insider’s Dan Frommer has posted a worthwhile read on Comcast’s upcoming Internet TV service, which is due later this year. It’s tentatively called OnDemand Online, and it sounds like it’ll be a rough equivalent of the company’s OnDemand cable service, featuring content from cable channels and available only to Comcast subscribers. It’s in addition to the company’s Hulu-like Fancast site, which focuses on free content from broadcast channels.
It’s impossible to think about OnDemand Online without obsessing over this week’s removal of Hulu from Boxee, the software that lets you watch Internet TV on a TV. Some observers wonder if cable companies were behind Hulu’s request that Boxee cease streaming its programming. I have no idea whether Comcast was involved, it would be a bummer to think that the company was trying to pre-empt competition for its new service by strongarming it out of action. Internet-based streaming is going to provide increasingly stiff competition for Comcast and other cable companies over the next few years, and while it makes perfect sense for Comcast to jump into the game, I gnash my teeth at the thought that it could be a fait accompli that it will dominate Internet TV in the same way it dominates cable…
Let’s get newsy, shall we?
Okay, now this just stinks: Boxee, the cool software that lets you pipe Internet TV and other digital media onto a TV set, is doing away with its support for Hulu, the most significant purveyor of streaming versions of broadcast TV programming. I take the move personally, since I recently bought an Apple TV in large part to run Boxee on it, and in particular to watch Hulu.
But I’m not mad at Boxee (who’s in a tough spot, and whose support for Hulu was unofficial rather than based on a partnership), and I don’t think I’m irked with Hulu, either. The latter company’s blog is explaining that its content providers were ticked off over their stuff being available on Hulu and therefore forced the issue. Minor kudos to Hulu for addressing what’s happening on the blog rather than pretending that it’s not a big deal for Boxee fans.
(Side note: I don’t know whether there’s any connection between this and the news that Ed Oswald reported on earlier today involving Hulu programming disappearing from TV.com.)
The instinctive response, of course, is to start slamming those content providers as clueless Hollywood types who don’t get the Internet and hate their TV-consuming customers. And it is a shame that they’re depriving Boxee users of their stuff: If the whole business model of Hulu involves monetizing TV by supporting it with ads, you’d think that Boxee eyeballs would be just as valuable as any others that watch those ads. Maybe more so, given that anybody who’s an early adopter of Boxee is likely a particularly hardcore TV fan.
Neither Boxee’s nor Hulu’s commentary on this development explains why content owners don’t want their shows on Boxee. My guess is that A) they’re uneasy with having stuff show up in an environment they don’t control; and B) they’re still not comfortable with Internet TV showing up on TV, where it competes more directly with the old-fashioned broadcast incarnations of the same programs. As well-done as Hulu is, I suspect that it’s still a pretty lousy advertising medium compared to prime time. (The Hulu shows I catch, at least, are often supported by public-service messages rather than big-name sponsors.)
Spo short-term, I’m disgruntled over not being able to watch Hulu on Boxee; long-term, my question is this: Do Hulu’s content providers have a problem with Boxee in particular or Hulu-on-a-TV in general? My hope is that Hulu is actively working on other means of bringing its nifty service to the living room; if Hollywood is short-sighted enough to nix that, then by all means let the name-calling begin.
And hey, does anyone want to buy a slightly-used Apple TV?
Users of TV.com that may have been using the site to watch programming offered through its joint venture with Hulu — programming from sources such as NBC and News Corp. — got a rude awakening this week.
Attempts at accessing that programming failed with a “Video Unavailable” message. Neither Hulu nor TV.com were responding to requests from the media to comment on the situation, although Paidcontent.org did say TV.com did confirm the end of the partnership.
TV.com is owned by CBS, one of the media providers who declined to become part of the Hulu service. However, in an effort to broaden the content available through the service, TV.com partnered with Hulu to offer that sites content.
Well, that deal lasted two months. For whatever reason, Hulu pulled the plug on TV.com, and rather abruptly too. In any case, it now looks like we’ll see a full-court press by both services in a race for supremacy in the licensed video content space, no?
A comScore Video Metrix report, released today, confirms what we all knew already: People are watching more and more online video. In fact, U.S. Internet users viewed 14.3 billion videos in December alone.
Google’s Web properties (including YouTube) received the greatest number of hits, accounting for 41% of the online video market. Fox Interactive was the (distant) runner up with a 3.1% share of the market, trailed by Yahoo, Viacom Digital, and Hulu. The average U.S. Internet user watched an average of 96 videos in December, and 78.5% of U.S. Internet users watch online video, according to the comScore report.
Viewers are trending toward short sessions, indicating that they’re not treating the Web like their TV. The average duration videos were watched for was just 3.2 minutes. Hulu users were an exception, spending 10.1 minutes per session.
Furthermore, the most popular YouTube videos of all time are music videos, comedy, and viral shorts. Far fewer people are catching entire television episodes and movies on the Web; although, video downloads and purchases were not tabulated in the report.
NBC hit pay dirt when it placed clips of SNL’s Tina Fey doubling as Sarah Palin online during the presidential election, and plenty of entire TV shows are online, complete with advertising. So there is a financial incentive for old line media to embrace the Web. But both TV companies and TV viewers still seem to be getting their heads around Net video.
When I watched episodes of Star Trek on CBS’s classic television Web site last year, I was bombarded with surveys about the advertisements that I saw. That was very blatant market research. It will be interesting to see how the studios adapt to the Web, and if they can figure out how to turn all those online viewing sessions into the money they’ll need to pay for more content.