Last Updated Feb 5, 2010 11:54 AM EST
NBC head Jeff Zucker testified to Congress that the media organizer Boxee was not a web browser and, therefore, should not have free access to Hulu, the website that has been blocked from Boxee. Unfortunately for Boxee, he's at least half right.
Rep. Rick Boucher (D-VA): What about Boxee? Mr. Zucker you probably are in a better position to answer that. Did Hulu block the Boxee users from access to the Hulu programs?
Zucker (NBC): 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 Avner Ronen added, "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."
Boxee is, of course, a web-based product, as that is how it accesses media from Netflix, YouTube and, at one period of time, Hulu. Zucker is wrong in that it is illegal for Boxee to play Hulu.
The rub is that Boxee is trying to define itself as a media center while still hiding behind the guise of a web browser. It is akin to the Kindle calling itself a multimedia machine though, when you compare it to an iPad, it really only does one thing.
The defense gets thinner after, just a couple weeks ago, Boxee announced it will soon begin accepting payments. Says Ronen, "Content partners will have the flexibility to decide what they make available, whether it's premium content, content from their existing library, or extras that will never make it 'on air'." We all know Hulu has been going towards a pay model for months. So, if we were to remove the David vs. Goliath overlay here and look at it objectively, Boxee wants to have its own paid content as well as Hulu and its paid content. A content-control focused entity like NBC has the right to be defensive.
Boxee's argument is that the Hulu commercials still run through the program, earning them views, but NBC and its partners still have the prerogative to not show up for the party - - especially since Boxee is slowly becoming less Netscape and more iTunes.