Incumbents vs. Innovation: The Online Video Battle

Much of the conversation at Connected Consumer centers in large part on new platforms’ continued push to offer premium content. Much in the way we saw (and continue to see) the big players in music struggle to stay ahead of the technology innovators, incumbents in video entertainment are having a difficult time staying ahead of pesky upstarts like Boxee.
This week, the freeware media center startup has found yet another way to sidestep maneuvers by Hulu to block its software from getting feeds of the NBC/News Corp. joint venture’s highly desirable premium content. This shows a couple things: first, the continued ability to show Hulu and other premium content is really one of the core appeals of Boxee. Secondly, Boxee may be proving itself, even as it shows its resourcefulness as a company, to be too much of a tinkerer’s solution for those of us who simply like to watch TV without much effort.
A few weeks ago, opinionated billionaire Mark Cuban of HDnet and Avner Ronen, the CEO of Boxee, had an epic argument about the future of TV (documented here on Boxee’s blog). Cuban hit the nail on the head when he said consumers “like to think they have choice, but their consumption habits say they prefer easy.” Aside from the hobbyists and free-content-or-die crowd, most of us like things that are easy. The last thing I want to do when I sit down with my Red Hook after a long day of work is be forced to download a software update or install some new plug-in on my Apple TV.  When the alternative is just hitting play on a service provider’s DVR to watch almost any show, I know what most people would choose to do.
At the same time, Cuban is a little too protective of the status quo — surprising, given his background as a streaming media entreprenuer — and I think Ronen’s points about Internet technology disrupting the incumbents business are largely valid. While Cuban tells Ronen he is talking out of both sides of his mouth, this is, in essence, what I see Hulu doing with its actions against Boxee. Hulu positions itself as embracing the openness of the Internet, but at the same time it’s trying to restrict the actual platforms on which its content is available. Hulu, listen up: If you’re going over the top, then guys, seriously, don’t try to tell the consumer which screen they can watch it on, OK?
I expect this debate about openness, screen and device of choice to get even louder this year. We will continue to follow the discussion here at the Connected Consumer.

Question of the week

Are you willing to put up with a need for more technical tinkering if it would give you access to content from Hulu on your television?