NBC, Hulu Point Fingers in Boxee Blame Game

Hulu roughly a year ago found itself caught between its corporate parents and Boxee, an upstart software company that made it easier for its viewers to watch full-length videos on their TVs. But now it’s in the middle of a fight over whether NBC’s (s GE) merger with Comcast’s (s CMCSA) cable programs could hurt distribution of video online by (for instance) blocking applications like Boxee from accessing that content.

At the time, it was widely reported that those efforts to block Boxee came at the behest of NBC Universal and Fox Broadcasting, both of which are investors in Hulu. But earlier today, in a hearing for the Subcommittee on Communications, Technology and the Internet on the Comcast-NBCU merger, NBC CEO Jeff Zucker testified that the decision to block Boxee users from being able to access content through the company’s media center software came from Hulu management.

“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,” Zucker said.

That contradicts what Hulu CEO Jason Kilar wrote at the time. In a blog post entitled “Doing Hard Things” in which he explained the situation, Kilar wrote that it was Hulu’s content partners (and stakeholders) that requested the videos be taken off Boxee. Saying that the decision “weighed heavily on the Hulu team,” Kilar wrote:

“Our content providers requested that we turn off access to our content via the Boxee product, and we are respecting their wishes…Without their content, none of what Hulu does would be possible, including providing you content via Hulu.com and our many distribution partner websites.”

Now Boxee is weighing in, saying that both are (kind of) right. In a blog post today, the company’s VP of marketing, Andrew Kippen Boxee CEO Avner Ronen wrote, “Mr. Zucker says the original decision was made by Hulu’s management. That is correct, but as Jason Kilar (Hulu’s CEO) wrote in his post, the request came from NBC.” Kippen Ronen went on to rebut Zucker’s claim that Boxee was “stealing” NBC’s content, pointing out that its software merely emulates a web browser, showing the same ads and allowing Hulu’s content partners to monetize their content in the same way they could if the end user was watching the content through Firefox or another browser.

As for Zucker’s claim that NBC is open to negotiations to make its content available on Boxee, Kippen Ronen wrote, “That has not been our experience.” Even so, he said Boxee would of course be interested in striking a deal with both Comcast and NBCU “to bring more content on more devices to our users.”