Do standalone boxes have a chance?

Akimbo, the San Mateo, Calif.-based start-up, was one of the first to develop a new Internet video on demand box, betting that is content package service will benefit from the integrated hardware+service experience.

The company is throwing in the towel, and instead focusing on making its content package work on as many platforms as possible. From AT&T’s Home Zone box to future devices, possibly from the likes of Linksys (Cisco is an investor), Thomas Frank, CEO & President of Akimbo says, “We simply want to be in everyone’s box.” (Full story on NewTeeVee.)

Previous attempts to create demand for a stand alone box have met a similar fate as well. “What consumers want is a multipurpose box,” says Frank. That is why we remain sanguine about the prospects of Vudu Labs, another start-up with video-movie box that downloads movies using P2P technology. The challenge for box makers is not that of technology, but instead it is about convincing consumers to add yet another box to their already overcrowded home entertainment set-up. Akimbo is smart in cutting their loses right now.

Just like DVR technology ended up in the set-top box, the IP VoD service is quite likely to end up in the set-top box – though it is tough to say when. Why? Because one box that has prime position in consumer homes – the set-top box (cable, dish or telco) – remains closed. It takes the carriers (of all hues) too long to deploy the newer IP based services, mostly because they threaten their legacy businesses.

Cable operators are going to resist an Akimbo like service because they have spent billions on their VoD services. Phone companies, however could (and should) use Akimbo type services to offer more video content, giving consumers more options, and a reason to switch away from cable. That said, there is opportunity for someone to develop a truly open multi purpose platform for IP-based entertainment services. Maybe boys from Slingbox or Hewlett-Packard should attempt that.