Hulu Back On Boxee... Without Hulu's Help

Web video software company Boxee‘s few-hundred-thousand alpha users can again get access to one of their favourite features — Hulu, the Web video site backed by News Corp. (NWS) and NBC (GE). Sort of.

(What’s Boxee? See footnote at of story.)

Boxee’s latest version includes its new “App Box” — essentially its version of the iPhone app store — and a new RSS reader ideal for video feeds. This means that Boxee users will get access to Hulu’s public RSS feeds, of which there are many.

This is not as good as the Hulu service that Boxee built — and had to take away from its users — but it should be enough for now, while Boxee and Hulu figure out what’s next.

Last month, Boxee announced it was removing its Hulu-browsing feature after Hulu asked it to. Hulu CEO Jason Kilar said that it wasn’t his decision, but his content suppliers’ — these likely include his bosses at Fox and NBC. “The maddening part … is that we realise that there is no immediate win here for users,” he said.

What’s the lesson here to big media?

We understand why they’re nervous that things like Boxee exist: They make it very easy to watch Web video on your TV, where media companies aren’t comfortable with you watching it.

Media companies, of course, want you to watch TV on your TV, through a cable or satellite box, so they maximise Nielsen ratings, TV advertising, and cable subscriber fees — their main forms of revenue. They don’t really care about Hulu’s online advertising revenue, because it’s couch change to them. So if they can squash something like Boxee, it makes them feel like they’ve accomplished something. Even if Boxee users swear off Hulu, it’s still growing so fast that it doesn’t matter.

But as the music industry learned the hard way, that is a losing battle. And as Boxee is proving, technology is winning out. Eventually the TV industry will have to actually do what their customers want, and we suppose the networks or cable carriers will make something just like Boxee — or buy Boxee to make it — for their set-top boxes, on-demand services, and Web sites.

But in the meantime, it’s a silly fight where the main losers are early-adopter-type techies — the customers the media industry should be listening to, not whizzing on.

Footnote: Boxee 101. Boxee is software you can run on your computer or Apple TV set-top box to comfortably browse and watch Web video from your couch — steering with your remote control. It’s really neat, and especially for stuff like Hulu and Netflix’s streaming library. Boxee Inc. is a NYC-based startup backed by Union Square Ventures and Spark Capital.

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