Boxee is announcing this morning that it plans to support paid options for premium video by the end of Q2. To date, Boxee has been delivering mostly free, often ad-supported, video, though users of subscription services like Netflix and MLB could also access these. The new initiative means that Boxee will process transactions itself, so Boxee will become a legitimate option for content providers who want to charge for their programming. Avner Ronen, Boxee's CEO and co-founder told me more about the plan yesterday.
Avner likened Boxee's approach to Apple's App Store, in that content providers will be able to set their own pricing and business model (e.g. rental, subscription, etc.). Boxee will work with a payment partner (not yet disclosed) which will provide the platform itself, with Boxee developing a 1-click UI for consumers as well as a content partner console. Avner said Boxee hasn't decided on the transaction percentage it aims to charge, but did say it will be less than the 30% or so that others like iTunes and Amazon ordinarily keep.
Boxee has attracted a strong early adopter following and has unveiled plans to launch its first convergence device, the Boxee Box, with partner D-Link. The move to support paid video is significant because as Boxee reaches into more mainstream homes, it could be yet another meaningful "over-the-top" alternative for consumers to pay for just the content they want, further pressuring the traditional multichannel subscription model. Microsoft's Xbox Live Marketplace with the Xbox 360 is probably the closest comparable set up, although it supports downloading, whereas Boxee is focused solely on streaming.
While digital delivery offers new convenience, an issue for both streaming and downloading is limited portability. Avner said that one way Boxee intends to address this is to offer authentication options to third-party web sites, so that if a user has rented an episode of "Mad Men" for example, through Boxee, they would subsequently be able to go to AMC's web site and watch it again without paying for it a second time. This is somewhat similar to what TV Everywhere providers are also thinking about doing in their second phase, extending user authentication to content providers' sites themselves.
From Avner's perspective, Boxee's ability to support multiple business models, in a content partner and user-friendly approach, is key to success. It is still very early days for over-the-top delivery, and with TV Everywhere now rolling out, incumbent video service providers are fighting hard to maintain their positions.
Still, news this week that Disney is negotiating with Microsoft to extend some of ESPN's programming to Xbox is a potent reminder that premium video providers are exploring (albeit gingerly) all their options for getting into the living room. If Boxee's new box becomes widely adopted, it could become an important player in the unfolding over-the-top drama.
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Following are 4 items worth noting for the Dec 7th week:
1. Boxee's new box with D-Link - It was hard to miss the news from boxee this week that it will be launching its first box, in partnership with D-Link, in early 2010. Boxee has gained a rabid early adopter following, but the high hurdle requirement of downloading and configuring its software onto a 3rd party device meant it was unlikely to gain mainstream appeal. Strategically, the new box is the right move for the company.
For other standalone box makers such as Roku, boxee's box, with its open source ability to easily offer lots of content, is a new challenge (though note, still no Hulu programming and little cable programming will be available on the boxee box). The indicated price point of $200 is on the high side, particularly as broadband-enabled Blu-ray players are already sub-$150 and falling. Roku has set a high standard for out-of-the-box usability whereas D-Link's media adaptors have never been considered ease-of-use standouts. Boxee's snazzy, but very unconventional sunken-cube design for the D-Link box is also risky. While eye-catching, it introduces complexity for users already challenged by how to squeeze another component onto their shelves. If boxee only succeeds in getting its current early adopters to buy the box it will have gained little. This one will be interesting to watch unfold.
2. AT&T tries to solve its iPhone data usage problem - In the "be careful what you ask for, you might just get it" category, AT&T Wireless head Ralph de la Vega revealed an interesting factoid this week at the UBS media conference: 3% of its smartphone (i.e. iPhone) users consume 40% of its network's capacity. Of course video and audio capabilities were one of the big ideas behind the iPhone, so AT&T should hardly be surprised by this result. AT&T, which has been hammered by Verizon (not to mention its users) over network quality, thinks the solution to its problem is giving heavy users unspecified "incentives" to reduce their activity. No word on what that means exactly.
Mobile video has become very hot this year, largely due to the iPhone's success. But the best smartphones in the world can't compensate for lack of network capacity. While AT&T is adding more 3G availability, it's questionable whether they'll ever catch up to user demand. That could mean the only way to manage this problem is to throttle demand through higher data usage pricing. That would be unfortunate and surely stunt the iPhone's video growth. Verizon, with its line of Android-powered phones, could be a key beneficiary.
3. Q3 '09 Nielsen data shows TV's supremacy remains, though early slippage found - Nielsen released its latest A2/M2 Three Screen Report this week, offering yet another reminder that despite online video's incredible growth, TV viewing still reigns supreme. Nielsen found that TV viewing accounted for 129 hours, 16 minutes in Q3. While that amount is more than 40 times greater than the 3 hours, 24 minutes spent on online video viewing, it is actually down a slight .4% from Q3 '08 of 129 hours 45 minutes.
How much weight should we give that drop of 29 minutes a month (which equates to just less than a minute/day)? Not a lot until we see a sustained trend over time. There are plenty of other video options causing competition for consumers' attention, but good old fashioned TV is going to dominate for a long time to come. This is one of the key motivators behind Comcast's acquisition of NBCU.
4. 3D poised for major visibility - In my Oct. 30th "4 Items" post I mentioned being impressed with a demo from 3D TV technology company HDLogix I saw while in Denver for the CTAM Summit. This Sunday the company will do a major public demonstration, broadcasting the Cowboys-Chargers in 3D on the Cowboys Stadium's 160 foot by 72 foot HDTV display. HDLogix touts its ImageIQ 3D as the most cost-effective method for generating 3D video, as it upconverts existing 2D streams in real-time, meaning no additional production costs are incurred.
Obviously those watching from home won't be able to see the 3D streaming, but it will surely be a sight to see the 80,000 attendees sporting their 3D glasses oohing and aahing. Between this and James Cameron's 3D "Avatar" releasing next week, 3D is poised for a lot of exposure.
Enjoy the weekend!
CES 2008 broadband video-related news wrap-up:
NETGEAR® Joins BitTorrent™ Device Partners
Categories: Advertising, Aggregators, Broadband ISPs, Broadcasters, Cable Networks, Cable TV Operators, Devices, Downloads, FIlms, Games, HD, Mobile Video, P2P, Partnerships, Sports, Technology, UGC, Video Search, Video Sharing
Among the many partnership announcements at CES this week, there are a number worth highlighting. Today I focus on the following three:
Viacom syndication - Viacom announced syndication deals for MTV Networks' stable of content with five leading broadband video sites: Dailymotion, GoFish, Imeem, MeeVee and Veoh. As those of you who have been following my previous posts know, I believe syndication is a critical engine in driving the advertising business model, which itself is the key to broadband video succeeding. As a result, I follow these syndication deals closely.
I've previously been critical of MTVN which appeared reluctant about syndicating its content when it launched its DailyShow.com destination site. However, with its recent deal with AOL, and now these five deals, it appears that MTVN does in fact believe syndication is the way to go. As one of the biggest cable network groups, MTVN is a key barometer for other networks' moves, so I view this as a real positive for the market.
Panasonic/Google - In this deal, Google and Matsushita announced that YouTube videos and Picasa photos would be directly accessible on new model Panasonic HDTVs launching in Q2 '08. Ordinarily I wouldn't be too excited about a deal like this, a permutation of which we've seen with other TV makers such as Sony.
Yet this one rises in potential importance because YouTube is not just the most popular video site - with 40% of all video traffic - but because Google is determined to turn YouTube into a platform for legitimate content distribution. This was underscored by the Sony mini-sode deal also announced this week, and the many partnerships YouTube has already struck with premium content providers. If successful (and there are many if's to be sure), YouTube would be far more than a scraggly collection of UGC. So, marry a broad-based premium video aggregator to HDTVs and you could see a new device/content model emerge.
BitTorrent device deals Netgear and D-Link - In a less publicized move, BitTorrent announced expanded deals with Netgear and D-Link covering a range of home networking products, with an emphasis on HD distribution. BitTorrent, which has been steadily legitimizing itself from its P2P file-sharing roots, has launched an aggressive SDK program called BitTorrent Device Partners, intended to permeate the market with its client software. BitTorrent also integrates easy access to its digital download store with these partners as well.
While I'm not very bullish about the market potential of bridge devices from companies like Netgear and D-Link, I do believe that P2P distribution has a real role to play in content distribution, especially for heavy HD files. I continue to see P2P as more of a "peer assist" play. To the extent that BitTorrent can continue getting its software into multiple devices, it gains validation and strengthens its potential to be a meaningful partner in the larger content distribution ecosystem.
Share your thoughts on these deals, and suggest others you think are noteworthy from CES!