One of the best things about this week’s Light Reading Cable event was Avner Ronen’s unfailingly humorous commentary. That guy could be a stand-up comedian. And in an industry where much is taken far too seriously, a little levity is appreciated.
That said, just because Avner was funny doesn’t mean he didn’t also have some status updates and pearls of wisdom to dispense. Here’s what I got from the Boxee CEO, along with Roku CEO Anthony Wood, and TiVo exec Tara Maitra. For more, check out Light Reading’s own coverage including interviews on Light Reading TV.
Boxee – wants to own the user experience
Avner Ronen still insists Boxee doesn’t want to be a cable killer. Instead, the company wants to own the user experience – not the delivery, the content, or the box. To date, the company has 1.7 million users worldwide, and it plans to use its recent funding round of 16.5 million dollars to license more content, get distribution on more TVs, and most importantly, continue focusing on product development. Avner says that Boxee still doesn’t meet the babysitter test – i.e. the babysitter wouldn’t necessarily be able to watch TV upon encountering the Boxee Box for the first time. However, the company is aggressively working on moving from being a geek-only product to one that’s appealing to mainstream early-adopters.
Roku – wants to be a next-generation video network
I don’t know that I could have articulated Roku’s goal of becoming a next-gen video network before CEO Anthony Wood did yesterday. (Ah, so that’s what the little box that could wants to be when it grows up!) But it’s a noble aim, and certainly one that Roku’s made a good start on achieving. According to Wood, Roku has already shipped more than a million boxes through direct Internet sales, and that number could explode when the company hits the retail big box stores this year. Meanwhile, Wood also noted that customer surveys suggest that new Roku owners are cutting back on cable services at a more rapid rate. Last year 30% of new owners said they downgraded cable service or cut it altogether. This year that number’s already at 40%.
Other Roku notes: Wood says the company will probably have more than 1,000 channels by the end of the year, and it will launch its first international product in 2011.
TiVo – wants to be more than a DVR
It’s perhaps a measure of status that TiVo didn’t have a keynote presentation to match Boxee and Roku, or maybe it’s just a matter of who paid what in sponsorship dollars. In any case, TiVo was on the defensive in a room where it was surrounded by the rock stars of Internet video, and the stalwarts of cable land. Avner may have hit a nerve when he suggested that TiVo majors in DVR, and minors in online content. TiVo exec Tara Maitra hastened to disagree with that statement and suggested that the public may have an outdated perspective on the company. She was also clear to emphasize TiVo’s strengths in the face of cable, namely that it has an interface that’s not stuck in the 1980s, that it’s managed to integrate live, VOD, and Internet content, and that it hasn’t ignored the importance of content search. Take those statements as you will. I’d say they’re a whole lot less valid today than they were even a short while ago.
31 thoughts on “The State of Boxee, Roku and Tivo”
Oh silly TiVo and their unfinished interface. I’d agree with that minoring characterization. Has Tara compared their Netflix app to any/every other Netflix app? And Hulu Plus was announced 7 months ago yet they’ve been unable to actually deliver it.
“Avner may have hit a nerve when he suggested that TiVo majors in DVR, and minors in online content.”
I continue to think that’s a feature, not a bug.
I continue to think that the age of DVR’s is going to pass from the scene far slower than everyone is currently expecting.
I continue to think the underlying infrastructure for mass usage of OTT to replace DVR functionality is further down the road than is the conventional wisdom – the IP backbone strains under limited Netflix deployment alone – and that something like AllVid to encourage a 3rd party box ecosystem for OTT is still a bit of a pipe-dream in the near and mid-term future.
All of this leads me to continue to think that OTT in the mass market is going to be primarily about low-bandwidth (low-revenue content) mobile devices, and not about high-bandwidth (high-revenue content) lean-back devices for quite a while to come.
All that said, it certainly would be nice if TiVo could improve on its currently anemic ability to rapidly roll out new OTT services into their boxes during the extended transition phase…
Roku and a 1000 channels of content? Roku is rapidly losing me as a fan. What makes Mr. Wood believe that 1000 channels on a Roku Player is any better than 500 channels on any cable/satellite system? Paraphrasing Pink Floyd, “Thirteen (or 100, 500 or a 1000) channels of shit on the TV to choose from.” At this point Roku would probably be a lot better served by fine tuning the user experience (i.e. minimizing player crashes, improved video playback, working with content providers for more HD content, etc.), concentrate on adding quality content – vice quantity – and continue to work on the UI. Generally, outside of Netflix and Hulu Plus, the UI is stuck in the 1990’s.
Chucky, I’d agree with you on the feature/bug thing except TiVo seems to think different. Of course, there is more to online content than over-the-top video. For example, my FiOS DVR and Xbox 360 both have Twitter. Not that I’d ever use it. Sadly, TiVo was once a trail blazer with a Fantasy Football widget. But it’s long gone and didn’t actually integrate into TV viewing.
jcm, yeah I’m not sure I agree with Roku’s emphasis on quantity. It’s the premium content they need to chase and enhance that experience.
In tivos’ defense, that ffl widget was a failure because of the CBS Sportsline data feeds, not the actual widget. They got burned with all that, and should have open sourced it more. Still waiting for a decent weather TV widget…
TiVo? I have satellite, and am patiently waiting for Uverse to roll out in my neighborhood. Shame, I was a HUGE TiVo fan back when it worked with what I had.
I really like RoKu, but last I checked local media playback from your LAN is still a no-no. I have to admit, my Apple TV 2 with my MLB and NetFlix subscription, plus a jailbroke install of XBMC is pretty darn good for $99 a room.
I haven’t sprung for Hulu Plus, since I have Hulu via PlayOn. Except for Sports, I’m just about ready to dump satellite.
Good stuff (as usual), although I’m still waiting for my (affordable) 1 box to rule them all. I have a Roku upstairs and a WD TV Live Hub downstairs, and they’re both great, but neither does everything it should (no Amazon or MLB on the WD TV, and no streaming and no hard drive on the Roku).
Yeah, I know, I should just get a Dell Zino or something, but I can’t sell my wife on that one.
Chucky- I disagree with the feature/bug bit, but I’m with you on everything else. It will take a while for the OTT infrastructure to support what it’s got to support. The situation is changing, but it won’t happen overnight.
I think the main question here is: Can my 64-year-old mother use it?
Boxee hits a usability wall almost out of the box. I can see my mother calling me back to the living room five minutes after I set up a Boxee Box or install for her.
Roku is pretty easy to understand and to grasp. It needs a way to get live content to it. If it could recognize a computer on the network with a TV tuner attached, Roku would suddenly become a cable killer.
TiVo… oh, TiVo. I tried to stay loyal for so long. I even left DirecTV when they screwed you over. TiVo’s biggest enemy is TiVo itself. It’s trying to be too much to too many people and the interface is seriously suffering for it. My mother would simply get lost in the menus. The Swivel Search might be able to save them, if they can look at how Google has utterly screwed up Google TV and apply those lessons (within a year, not multiple years as TiVo is so apt to do).
My money is on Roku between these three. Maybe they’ll buy TiVo, create a DVR server using TiVo’s tech, and make the Roku boxes the receivers. In any case, someone should buy TiVo and show its strengths the love they deserve.
However, I still think Apple is primed for something big, very big, with the Apple TV 2 and this pending “iCloud” rumor… I just wish they would announce what is going to happen!
>TiVo? I have satellite, and am patiently waiting for Uverse to roll out in my neighborhood. Shame, I was a HUGE TiVo fan back when it worked with what I had.
Same here Scott. I was one of the first customers of Tivo, but they left me behind with my 3 Series-2 boxes on satellite and no upgrade path. I’ll likely never be back with Tivo, as I’m happy with my whole-house DirecTV DVRs and Netflix running on my TVs.
I just don’t see a future for Tivo. They blew their big lead in DVRs and online content.
“Chucky- I disagree with the feature/bug bit, but I’m with you on everything else.”
Well, it’s obviously a bug and not a feature that TiVo doesn’t currently have a development platform that makes it easy to roll out new OTT video services in a timely feature.
But I still think it’s a feature and not a bug to major in DVR and minor in OTT. As long as we continue living in the golden age of CableCARD, that will continue to be true. (Viva CableCARD! Viva! Viva!)
Of course, 10 years out, after the singularity, when our robot overlords are sitting on the couch after a long, hard day of enslaving humans, when they pick a show to watch, they’ll probably be watching via IP delivery. But that’s a long way off. (Oddly enough, the robot overlords just can’t get enough of The Andy Griffith Show and Maude. They just watch episodes of those two shows over and over again. The rebel human computer scientists hiding in their underground caves are convinced that understanding why the robot overlords are so into those two shows is key to overthrowing them, but unfortunately, they didn’t bring any media critics down into the caves with them when the singularity hit. So the rebel computer scientists just sit there reading old xkcd comics trying to use them to make sense out of human culture.)
Don’t know if I’m as optimistic about OTT video. It’s not just video quality issue (given enough bandwidth, it’s possible to stream high-quality video, e.g. VUDU’s HDX). Bigger problem, IMHO, is data caps. More and more providers that offer double/triple play will start capping data to nudge customers to keep/get cable subscriptions.
“My money is on Roku between these three.”
Eh, my money is on the MSOs. They’ll enable just enough Internet content just fast enough to keep their hegemony intact. They’ve got the pipeline, they’ve got the studio relationships, and they’re entrenched in oh so many households. (And it’s possible TiVo will stay relevant in that way given the deals they’ve brokered beyond retail.)
Having said that, I’m looking forward to an over-the-air Boxee DVR.
I definitely see it as good thing that TiVo majors in DVR and minors in OTT. The real problem is TiVo doesn’t seem to see it this way and spreads themselves too thin. This combined with their already slow development seems to lead to even bigger delays.
I would much rather see TiVo dedicate time to improving the DVR portion. Maybe this way we will see another update this year and one that is actually significant to improve and fix the Premiere.
“Having said that, I’m looking forward to an over-the-
air Boxee DVR.”
I still say TiVo is missing the boat by not offering a OTA DVR. This would eliminate the cost of the Cable Labs hardware and certification. It could also be a cheaper box to compete more against the streaming devices and would be another potential unit that could be used as an extender should TiVo ever actually implement streaming. They could even sell it for $299 which would include lifetime.
I’ll never have anything to do with Boxee. It used to be that when I brought up Boxee on my PC, one of the comments feeds said “HP computers are racist”. I don’t want to have to explain “racist” (just yet) to my young kids. Maybe it’s changed, but I removed Boxee. They lost me, and I’ll never look again.
@Brennok wrote: “I still say TiVo is missing the boat by not offering a OTA DVR”.
Brennock & George: TiVo does offer an OTA DVR – the TiVo Premiere. And before that the TiVo HD and Series3. They work perfectly fine as OTA-only DVRs and many people use them that way.
There really wouldn’t be a significant cost savings from making an OTA *only* box. Since ATSC is fully digital you could lose the video encoders and the physical CableCARD slot, and maybe one of the tuner blocks. But the trade off is two production lines, two stock chains, etc. By making one platform that works for *both* there are many points of savings in the production and supply lines.
Keep in mind they’d also have to get retailers to stock both systems, etc. They have enough trouble getting the basic and ‘XL’ versions stocked in stores. Shelf space is finite, stores only stock the items most profitable for them to do so. And history has show us that OTA-only DVRs just don’t sell. Several companies have introduced OTA-only DVRs over the past several years – the first I recall is a Zenith ATSC DVR from the earliest days of ATSC, and the most recent I can’t think of the EchoStar DTVPal DVR. They’ve all fizzled.
It isn’t surprising – the vast, vast majority of viewers in the US get their signal from cable or satellite. Even those using antenna are often doing so *in addition to* cable or sat (to get higher quality local HD stations). Those using antenna only are a small minority. So it isn’t exactly a hot market to target exclusively. And it seems most of those users aren’t the kind to buy DVRs either. I think it is likely that a lot of them don’t have cable or satellite because they just don’t watch or care that much about television in the first place, so they don’t care about having more channels, etc. Which makes them unlikely to bother with a DVR.
Yes, there are some who have decided to go to antenna + streaming service to ‘cut the cord’ on cable, etc. But that’s still a fringe element compared to the overall market.
There really isn’t an advantage to TiVo to make an OTA-only box. The cost savings would *NOT* be that dramatic – certainly not as you seem to expect, being able to sell it for $299 *with* lifetime. Keep in mind lifetime for new subscribers alone is $399, and hardware isn’t free. And they, as a company, still have to pay to certify the cable boxes, so that’s not a savings. Worse, if they did make an OTA-only box they’d have to pay to certify that one – not with CableLabs, but the FCC, UL, etc. So not only wouldn’t it be a savings, it’d be added costs on the bottom line. And then the added costs of production and distribution for more SKUs. It just doesn’t make sense.
One box that covers both markets simplifies a great deal and means a lot of savings at several points in the process.
Any details on the YouTube rights fight between Google and Roku?
Robert, haven’t heard anything. But I doubt Roku will have official YouTube support any time soon. Fortunately, neither Google nor Roku have pressed the issue (yet) regarding folks who still have the app installed – not sure why, but I’m pleased, and will never sell this box. ;)
“Eh, my money is on the MSOs. They’ll enable just enough Internet content just fast enough to keep their hegemony intact. They’ve got the pipeline, they’ve got the studio relationships, and they’re entrenched in oh so many households.”
That’d be the obvious answer under a Republican administration. In a wild west situation where there are no rules, the folks who own the pipes and also have various degree of ownership in content companies will cartelize and run sociopathic monopolies.
But we’re under a nominally Democratic administration, and the FCC might actually put some rules in place in streamland during the next five years, which is what I understand the AllVid thing to be essentially about.
And while the coax MSO’s would fight AllVid, there would be a coalition of folks in favor of putting in rules of the road so everyone can make money. Hell, if AllVid existed, Verizon would have a business reason to expand the FIOS buildout, no?
So, in the absence of FCC action, the MSO’s will run away with the game. But with a nominally Democratic administration, there is some chance of having a sheriff in town…
Allvid? Really? It ain’t about the left or the right kid, it’s about an FCC that is funded by the broadcast industry. Don’t believe me? How about republican backed tru2way? Or democrat backed cablecard?
It’s not politics, it’s money, and lots of it, that talks in this industry…
I have no idea if AllVid will come to useful fruition or not, but if it does it’ll be about putting some reasonable limits on the monopoly powers of the MSO’s as we transition to streamland.
“it’s about an FCC that is funded by the broadcast industry. Don’t believe me? How about republican backed tru2way? Or democrat backed cablecard?”
YMMV, but CableCARD seems to me to have been a consumer-oriented successful initiative, while tru2way seems to me to have been a corporate-oriented initiative that was always intended to be unsuccessful.
Politics in America in both parties over the past generation has been heavily corrupted by the forces of entrenched wealth, and the current Democratic administration is as bad as the Carter administration, but there are still some differences in the two parties from where I sit.
it does come down to allvid or cable card
if access to broadcast contant stays hard to do (current cable card) Then the MSOs rule and DVR functionality remains important to many (including me)
on the other hand, if something like Allvid came to pass and Grandma could bring a box home and just hook the cable to it and then hook some wires to the TV and have access to broadcast content as well as whatever else the box provide — then watch Boxee and Vuduu get more play. Maybe TiVo can then finally hire some good engineers and developers back and finally get a truly integrated box out the door.
MSOs, of course, have a fear of such direct competition and will spend to prevent that dream world from becoming true.
Till then we all have to live with multiple boxes and no one solution to rule them all
Cablecard total installs = ~500k hh
Total us households = 110m
Point taken. But the number from the NCTA as of 3/30/11 which only includes the top ten operators is 572,000. We do our homework here at ZNF. Sometimes. ;)
Meh. It’s always been my observation that the mere existence of 3rd party CableCARD competition drove the MSO’s to roll out DVR’s significantly faster and cheaper than they otherwise would have.
All wireline consumers ended up winning out of the CableCARD mandate, even if 3rd party boxes never broke out of small niche.
(And for niche consumers like me who are tech-aware and live in markets where we can switch between wireline providers based on services and price without any lock-in because of TiVo, CableCARD has been a major win…)
“the mere existence of 3rd party CableCARD competition drove the MSO’s to roll out DVR’s significantly faster and cheaper than they otherwise would have”
do you have a shred of evidence on this? TiVo launched their DVR. within a year they were followed by DISH and others. these two moves alone brought DVRs into millions of homes, and directly threatened Comcast and other cable companies core business.
meanwhile, the cable guys were the ones who controlled the CableCard process, which they made abhorrently difficult for consumers to use.
don’t get me wrong, i love the idea of empowering the consumer, hence my time at Sling, but expecting the government to play any role that positively benefits the people is unlikely. in all reality *every* move they’ve made has HURT consumers…
“do you have a shred of evidence on this?”
Nope. All observational and anecdotal. Wouldn’t stand up in court to a ‘beyond a reasonable doubt’ standard, but I do think it to be true.
“TiVo launched their DVR. within a year they were followed by DISH and others. these two moves alone brought DVRs into millions of homes, and directly threatened Comcast and other cable companies core business.”
See, that’s a good example. My anecdotal reaction to that time period was that the threat of TiVo and ReplayTV, (which were only made possible by the 1996 law), forced the MSO’s to roll DVR’s out to consumers faster and cheaper than they otherwise would have. I observationally and anecdotally counted that as a win for all wireline video consumers.
“don’t get me wrong, i love the idea of empowering the consumer, hence my time at Sling, but expecting the government to play any role that positively benefits the people is unlikely. in all reality *every* move they’ve made has HURT consumers…”
We just disagree about the impact of the Telecommunications Act of 1996. While obviously far short of perfect, I think it made consumers better off than they would have been without it.
Forcing the monopoly MSO’s away from having 100% control of the STB is good governmental regulation in my book. YMMV.
“My anecdotal reaction to that time period was that the threat of TiVo and ReplayTV, (which were only made possible by the 1996 law), forced the MSO’s to roll DVR’s out to consumers faster and cheaper than they otherwise would have. I observationally and anecdotally counted that as a win for all wireline video consumers.”
i completely agree with you on this – just not on the CableCard bit.
“I think it made consumers better off than they would have been without it.”
any examples? as far as i can see it, consumers cable rates are through the roof (though there are other reasons for that), and no viable competition ever emerged through the free/open market. how are we better off?
its one of those things that sounds great in theory, but just doesnt work in practice. similar to deregulating power – no benefit actually occurred, if anything we’re likely worse off. even if these companies don’t behave as monopolies, the lack of competition makes them untouchable now…
Jeremy says, “meanwhile, the cable guys were the ones who controlled the CableCard process, which they made abhorrently difficult for consumers to use.”
More than that, certification was a major bitch for a long time and a great expense – both internal (engineering and testing) plus fees to CableLabs. A big company like Sony would have no problem, a small player like SageTV or Hauppauge hasn’t bothered. Meanwhile, someone like Sony totally gave up on retail CableCARD DVRs and TVs.
Chucky says, “My anecdotal reaction to that time period was that the threat of TiVo and ReplayTV, (which were only made possible by the 1996 law), forced the MSO’s to roll DVR’s out to consumers faster and cheaper than they otherwise would have”
Well, the first CableCARD TiVo wasn’t released until 9/06. The ones that existed in the years prior were made possible by video cassette recording precedents set earlier than 1996. TiVo did push this space forward, but irrespective of the CableCARD cluster. However, that has allowed them to stay in the game. As did DISH’s first paid infringement penalty… with much more to come.
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