I haven’t written before on the Hulu vs Boxee battle that is unfolding, and a couple of folks have asked me to chime in. As a reference, while I have used both apps, I don’t use the pairing of Boxee to access Hulu myself. However, the battle being played out over the interoperability (or lack thereof) does bring up a couple of important points.
In case you missed the latest chapter in the saga, after Hulu disconnected Boxee’s custom plug-in, Boxee went the innovative, open route and wrote an RSS parser, a la Podcaster. This gave Boxee a similar interface as before to access Hulu content, but did so without any custom API or other form of access to Hulu. So, Hulu yesterday blocked Boxee’s browser identifier, effectively shutting legitimate users out, simply because their computers identified to Hulu that their browser was running inside of Boxee.
Boxee responded to Hulu’s action noting this, stating that Boxee is just now a glorified RSS reader, pointed at Hulu’s site by default. Boxee already has a fix, and that simply was to change the identifier to Firefox. Now Hulu can’t tell the difference between the Firefox browser, and Boxee loading Hulu’s feeds.
My take on this is simple: Hulu and its content-providing backers should back off of blocking Boxee. No, not because they’re afraid of their business model being undermined. No, not because they want a phased transition.
Why they should is simple: They’re making Boxee more popular by opening this can of worms. Boxee is an underdeveloped product that landed a Series A round of venture capital funding. Its success is far from guaranteed. However, every time Hulu tweaks Boxee, Boxee wins another round of media attention. It gets free press that money can’t buy, and gains probably tens of thousands of new users each time Hulu turns the page on this debacle.
And, that makes Boxee stronger. That makes them more likely to get more funding. That makes them more likely to be in a position where they won’t need Hulu. Hulu should be afraid of that, and the content providers would not like having to negotiate with multiple streaming TV stores.
I’m not going to advise Hulu on what to do exactly, they aren’t paying my lofty-but-well-earned consulting fee.