NBC Says Boxee Illegally Took Content from Hulu
Boxee CEO Avner Ronen fires back: "We don’t 'take' the video. We don’t copy it. We don’t put ads on top of it."
February 09, 2010 by Julie Jacobson

When Boxee was still an up-and-coming content aggregator, the company owed a good chunk of its popularity for putting a fresh face on Hulu.

Hulu was just one destination offered via the Boxee interface, which provides easy access to dozens of other streaming sites.

In February 2009, however, Hulu ordered Boxee (and TV.com) to cease offering Hulu content on their sites. Later, Hulu altered its format so third parties could no longer embed Hulu content – or at least they couldn’t do it as easily as before.

Third parties such as Request, however, have continued to “support” Hulu.

The Hulu/Boxee issue came up last week during a congressional hearing over the proposed merger between NBC Universal and Comcast. NBC owns 32 percent of Hulu, so there is some concern over potential antitrust violations if Comcast and NBC were to merge.

During the hearing, Rep. Rick Boucher, Chairman of the Subcommittee on Communications, Technology and the Internet, asked NBC president and CEO Jeff Zucker, “What about Boxee?”

Zucker replied:

This was a decision made by the Hulu management to, uh, what Boxee was doing was illegally taking the content that was on Hulu without any business deal. And, you know, all, all the, we have several distributors, actually many distributors of the Hulu content that we have legal distribution deals with so we don’t preclude distribution deals. What we preclude are those who illegally take that content.

Boxee CEO: “We didn’t ‘take’ video”

Boxee CEO Avner Ronen has some choice words about Zucker’s statement. He writes in his blog:

I’d like to set the record straight regarding Boxee’s access to Hulu. Boxee uses a web browser to access Hulu’s content – just like Firefox or Internet Explorer. Boxee users click on a link to Hulu’s website and the video within that page plays. We don’t “take” the video. We don’t copy it. We don’t put ads on top of it. The video and the ads play like they do on other browsers or on Hulu Desktop. And it certainly is legal to do so. …

There are now close to a million people using Boxee. When they watch shows from Hulu they are watching the ads and generate real revenues to NBC. We hope we will be able to work with NBC and offer more content and value to Boxee users as we believe a good number of our users will also be willing to pay one-time or subscription fees to access NBC’s content.

Avner further notes that it was not Hulu’s decision to lock out Boxee; rather, the request came from Hulu’s content providers.

Hulu CEO Jason Kilar wrote in a blog in February 2009, “Our content providers requested that we turn off access to our content via the Boxee product, and we are respecting their wishes.”

Does Hulu Have the Right to Block Aggregators?

Hulu was adopted by content aggregators because it provided an easy method for embedding its content; therefore, it hardly seems like digital theft for Boxee to avail itself of Hulu’s engine.

And surely, Hulu has the right to make its content less usable by third parties.

But if we see a merger between two content giants – NBC (plus Hulu) and Comcast – will they be forced to accommodate Boxee and similar aggregators to avoid the appearance of anti-competitive behavior?

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Julie Jacobson - Editor-at-large, CE Pro
Julie Jacobson is co-founder of EH Publishing and currently spends most of her time writing for CE Pro, mostly in the areas of home automation, networked A/V and the business of home systems integration. She majored in Economics at the University of Michigan, earned an MBA from the University of Texas at Austin, and has never taken a journalism class in her life. Julie is a washed-up Ultimate Frisbee player with the scars to prove it. Follow her on Twitter @juliejacobson.

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