No TV on Your TV

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This is Rob Long with Martini Shot for KCRW.

Boxee allows the user to recreate the Hulu experience on the television.

And that is a sentence that would make no sense to anyone three or four years ago. Maybe even one year ago. And maybe it makes no sense to most people right now.

So here's what it means, for those of you who live and work in Hollywood and don't really follow what's going on in new media. (Which, by the way, is sort of like living in Central Asia in the twelfth century and not really following what's going on with the Genghis Khan character who seems to be approaching quickly…)

But anyway, in Hollywoodspeak: some nerdy guys with no dates have invented a thingy that allows people to take the content that they used to have to watch online, on their little computers with the bad speakers and the foggy, smudgy screens, and somehow zap that stuff, our stuff – from Hulu, from YouTube, from wherever – onto their big, cool flat-screen televisions, which have great picture and audio – though probably not as great as most of you have in your media rooms. Still, for civilians, it's a great experience. Which is why they have them in the first place: so they can play Halo II and Rock Band and the Wii on that flat shiny thing they used to use to watch the stuff that we sometimes still make and that they sometimes watch, but not often enough for a lot of people in town to keep making house payments or keep leasing the BMW 7 series.

So what we said to the guys from Boxee – the smart guys with no dates – is no, you can't put Hulu content up on your thingy, because we can't allow you to watch our TV content on a TV if that content comes from the web machine. If it comes from Comcast, then sure! Watch it on the big screen. If it comes from the computer object with the mouse thing and the Facebook, no go. Cease and desist department. We're blocking Hulu content from Boxee. Twitter that, geeks.

So the geeks said, okay, fine, since we're not busy on nights and weekends, due to our uncoolness and lack of girlfriends, we'll spend a few minutes – and that's probably all it took, honestly – to come up with a clumsy but effective workaround so that people can watch Hulu content – remember, that's OUR content, that's OUR stuff, Hollywood's stuff – on Boxee and you can chase us like Wile E. Coyote all you want, but we're smarter and faster and we're always going to win. Always. Always.

And that's where it stands.

Now, the trouble with the broadcast networks is that they're still pushing the customer around. Basic cable outfits like FX and USA and TNT and Bravo rerun their shows pretty much wall-to-wall. You don't bother to TiVo one of their shows because it's a good bet that it's on, right now. USA's Burn Notice is a huge success for them, and it's on a lot. But the broadcast guys still demand that you sit and watch when they tell you to sit and watch. And the customer is telling them to jump in the lake. The customer is going to basic cable or the web or, worse, DVR's and zapping through the commercials.

Boxee seems to me like a godsend to the broadcast networks -- anytime you can get people back on the sofa watching your content -- rather than ten inches from a laptop, finger poised over the mouse pad -- it's a huge win for them. Anytime you can remind the customer exactly how wonderful your product is, it's a huge win. Anytime you can deliver your best stuff to the customer in the way you want it to be delivered – picture, sound, like a movie, with the implicit command to sit there and watch – it's a great success. That's the business we're in, after all: basically the “you sit, you watch” business.

So I don't get it. The first thing the big studios and broadcast networks should be concerned about it market share -- take back the eyeballs from Guitar Hero and Facebook and LOLcats and everything else. The potent combination of Boxee and Hulu seems to accomplish that. Figure the details out later. In other words, stop chasing the roadrunner. Sit him down. Make him a deal.

That's it for this week. Next week, we're stopped at the studio gates. For KCRW, this is Rob Long with Martini Shot.



Rob Long