Old media’s war against technology just escalated: Hulu, the Web video site owned by Fox (NWS) and NBC (GE), just blocked Boxee, a Web TV-specialised browser, from accessing its videos. (What’s Boxee? See explanation at bottom.)
Update: It’s back. But for how long?
MediaMemo’s Peter Kafka: And as of now (8:51pm eastern), [Boxee] CEO Avner Ronen tells me, his team has made another series of tweaks that will let you watch Hulu shows on Boxee yet again. Ronen says he’s not quite sure about the technical details, but argues that his service has every right to let you watch Hulu on your television, since Hulu is a free Web service that anyone (in the U.S. can access).
But he is sorry that he’s now playing cat-and-mouse with Hulu, a joint venture between GE’s NBC (GE) and News Corp.’s Fox (NWS). “It’s not a very productive way to spend our time,” Ronen says.
Specifically, this means that Hulu videos can’t be watched on Boxee’s new video RSS reader, while Hulu’s content will (presumably) still work with other Web browsers and RSS readers. This is sort of along the lines of Microsoft hypothetically blocking Mac users from Hotmail.
Why would Hulu do this?
Its old media backers have big reasons to squash software like Boxee, which makes it easier to watch Web TV on your TV. Big media wants you to watch real TV on your TV, and Web TV on your computer. That’s because TV ads and cable subscriber fees keep the lights on at NBC. Not the relatively tiny trickle of Internet ad revenue that Hulu generates.
And as NBC renegotiates its carrier deal with Comcast (CMCSA), the biggest U.S. cable company, it’ll probably do anything it can to show Comcast that it’s fighting services like Boxee, which threaten cable. (Comcast lost 233,000 cable TV subscribers last quarter. Not because of Hulu. But someday, it could be.)
Last month, Boxee removed its popular Hulu section at Hulu’s request, with the hope that meetings with Hulu’s backers would enlighten them to the fact that Boxee is only making their Web efforts more consumer-friendly. That didn’t go so well. So today, Boxee introduced a new video-specialised RSS reader that could play video from Hulu’s public RSS feeds. Now, that’s dead, too.
In a blog post, Boxee CEO Avner Ronen vows to work around the obstacle. “To our users: if you choose to use Boxee as your media browser to view legal and publicly available content on the Internet, we will do everything we can to ensure that you can access it, no matter what the source.”
But Boxee has probably lost any goodwill it had with Hulu. So don’t expect it to work as well as Boxee’s initial Hulu service.
This will probably piss off some Boxee users enough to stop using Hulu and start watching shows from BitTorrent or pirate sites like MegaVideo.com, which comScore said was the no. 10 most popular video site in the U.S. during January.
But Hulu’s growing fast enough that its backers will probably never even notice. All while feeling powerful that they squashed some tiny — yet innovative, and really useful — disruption named Boxee.
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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