Boxee's Four Things

Our portfolio company Boxee announced a second round of funding today, led by General Catalyst. With half of the last round still in the bank and now $6mm of new capital, there is a lot that Boxee could be doing. But in his blog post announcing the financing, Boxee's CEO Avner Ronen listed the four things that Boxee is doing right now and will continue to focus on:

Going forward we plan to focus on:

  • Improving the product
    – We are working on the Beta release (due later this fall), but also
    looking beyond Beta and into the roadmap of 2010. The idea is to have a
    healthy mix of development driven by user feedback (which is the
    essence of the upcoming Beta) and innovation that comes from within

  • Adding more content – We believe Boxee
    can be a great partner for independent content producers as well as big
    media companies. We will try to bring more TV Shows, Web Shows and
    Movies from ad-based, subscription-based and a la carte type services.

  • Attracting more developers
    – While we have an App Store on Boxee, we know it needs some love. For
    Developers, we know it needs to be easier to develop and monetize apps.
    For users, we're going to make it easier to find apps on Boxee. Last
    but not least we're going to extend the APIs so everyone can do more
    with Boxee.

  • Bringing Boxee into devices – Boxee
    today is mostly serving a tech-savvy audience – those who feel
    comfortable connecting a computer to a TV. To make Boxee more
    accessible for a mainstream consumer it's important for us to get Boxee
    embedded into connected TVs and Blu-Ray players, game consoles and
    set-top boxes. We're already talking to device makers to ensure Boxee
    works on a variety of platforms for 2010.

I like that there are only four things Boxee is doing right now. It could even be three or two. And I like that Avner has clearly and concisely articulated what they are, both inside the company and outside the company. The more everyone knows what you are working on, and what the priorities are, the better off you'll be.

#VC & Technology

Comments (Archived):

  1. Andrew Breen

    How about focusing on making it work and usable? The first couple of releases were wholly unstable crashing constantly, unable to play a lot of the content you linked to, and had one of the most confusing UXs I’ve seen (made Media Center PC look well thought out).I know it was an “alpha” but that product shouldn’t have been released to the public in that form as you created bad will amongst users (believe me, I really want Boxee or an equivalent to work but I’m now skeptical of your capabilities) and a huge mis-firing on PR. You spent all that marketing capital when you didn’t have a product. Now, if/when you get a stable product it’ll be yesterday’s news and have little buzz.I do product management for early stage companies. You should laser focus on these priorities alone:1) UX, UX, UX: I’m assuming the code will get refined and stability issues will subside but the product has tons of dead-ends where you can’t get back and its very confusing how you discover content including your own. Make a search that runs across content sources and a way for me to mark/queue shows for future viewing (both within Boxee and external to it in a browser plug-in). I absolutely don’t care about what my friends are watching and I’m sure its vice versa. That feature dominates the product now and should be allowed to be turned off and resources working on it should be shifted to other things. I have specific tastes that “friends” have little influence over and we generally don’t discuss it. I am more influenced by trusted reviewers (get NYT movie/show review content) and by smart algorithms which can see what I’ve watched and recommend similar (ala Netflix).2) Content but “big” content: I don’t want more individual content producers nor app plug-ins for random content. The signal to noise ratio and quality is already too much to handle. Make it seamless to switch between hulu, news sites/sources, non-hulu major providers, netflix/amazon movies, shoutcast, pandora/, and easy to add my own content. That’s it. I’d debate the utility of YouTube.Remember, TV and radio/music is a passive medium and you are trying to transition that to new capabilities that will enhance it but you can’t fundamentally change user behavior. This is why, Pandora, and are so popular in Internet radio. I’m fine not being bound to time, channels, and other constraints cable puts on you but I still want to sit down and not have to “work” to get content. I want my queue, my favorites, and my recommendations (not from “friends”). You need to think about the equivalent of channel surfing and there are some nice metaphors you could apply. Feel free to contact me as I’m willing to expound on this for days and have two places set up to fully utilize internet TV/content: one with traditional cable and one w/o.

    1. fredwilson

      That’s thing number one. I’ve seen the UX for the beta and I’m confident you and everyone else will love it

    2. kirklove

      I’m sure they are working their butts off trying to get it to be stable, but you are right, it’s far from that. In fact, I stopped using it because it constantly crashed on my ATV and the rare times it did work the UX was so bad that I quickly got frustrated and the entire process became unenjoyable. (For the anthesis experience think of the flawless Hulu desktop app.)I want Boxee to succeed. I believe in the concept of it, the openness of it, but the execution has simply not been there. And Fred as you have said many times yourself if you don’t get something and if it’s not easy to use in the first 5 mins you move on. I’m afraid a lot of people will do the same here.Here’s to the Boxee team proving me wrong.

      1. avneron

        Boxee on Apple TV is challenging. The platform is pretty weak and we can’t take advantage of hardware acceleration for playback. There is a limit to our ability to improve the performance on Apple TV.We hope to address most of the UX issues on our Beta release, so hopefully the only issue with Boxee on Apple TV will be “that it is not as fast as it is on the MacBooK”.

    3. Bora Celik

      I hate to agree with this but I have to. I wanted to love Boxee as well. I was excited to install on my AppleTV and use Boxee all the time but just didn’t happen that way. Incredible slowness, constant crashes, never-ending catch up with Hulu, weird navigation caused me to uninstall it.Same thing with my co-workers. I got everyone excited here, they all installed and gave it a try for a while but now no one is using it.Once it is improved, will definitely reinstall it on ATV and try again.

    4. avneron

      sorry to hear you had a bad experience with the early releases. not sure where you tried our latest build (, but it solved a bunch of stability issues.our next major release will be Beta (scheduled for later this fall), and I hope it will address both stability and UX issues you mentioned:New Home Screen – there is a new Home screen for Boxee in the works, where Shortcuts will be very prominent (so you could have quick access to your favorite shows/apps). There will also be items from your Queue, your friends or 3rd party recommendations that will be part of the home screen.Queuing items to watch later – as part of our Beta release there will be a Queue that will enable you to add items to it directly from Boxee or via 3rd party apps.TV Shows and Movies browsing – today it is all over the place in Boxee. in the Beta we’ll enable users to search and browse across all different sources, so it will be much easier to get to the content you want.i also agree regarding passive viewing. i think it is missing in Boxee and other products. not sure we’ll be able to tackle it in the Beta, but we have ideas on how to bring that experience into Boxee.

  2. Apostol Apostolov

    I love Boxee and it’s my player of choice on iMac, but I am more and more getting tired to support a platform that is not actively developing. Latest releases have no notable features although most omissions from XBMC require a day or two to code (removing “the” when sorting, allow to delete files, mark filres as watched, remember position where the last playback stopped etc.). Even it’s main theme is so behind modern design and the inability to develop new ones is overshadowed of the beautify of theme development for XBMC. In short, Boxee is lagging dangerously behind what it forked to start with.

    1. fredwilson

      I can assure you they are developing. I hope you’ll hang in there for the beta release which will be out in the fall

  3. Dave Pinsen

    Any chance you could tie this post in to the previous one by explaining Boxee’s business model to the uninitiated (or, if you’ve already done so in a previous post, link to that one?)? Is there a subscription or download fee that Boxee charges? Is it free to the user but generating revenue from other sources?

    1. Apostol Apostolov

      It’s one of those venture-funded companies that develop technologies and offer them for free to the users, but usually sell services, underlying technologies and offer brandable space in the long-run. So far Boxee is burning cash, AFAIK.

    2. fredwilson

      Boxee will support transactions and subscriptions shortly. Think browser plus itunes

      1. Apostol Apostolov

        Payment is not a problem, will probably be PayPal based. I don’t know why people want to hype iTunes account for all media payments, Apple is much worse option for your money overlord than PayPal. What might be a problem is what would be worth selling through Boxee, will it be DRM’ed (of course) and why subjugate yourself to Boxee’s limited UI.

      2. Dave Pinsen

        OK, thanks for the explanation.

    3. fredwilson

      here’s what avner told paid contentAs for making money, Ronen said the team is working on developing payment options so that content providers can charge per-viewing or subscription-based fees for their shows; the goal will always be to let consumers access Boxee for free—but get a rev-share if they’re paying for the content. Ronen also said lead-generation deals could be an option; if Boxee drives new viewers to an online series, for example, the content company could offer an ad revenue to the whole post is

  4. Vladimir Vukicevic

    The last point is the most important – it seems to be the bottleneck that must be expanded for the first three points to matter. But then there is the chicken-or-the-egg dilemma in regards to quality vs. acceptance. So all in all it’s a tough business but one with huge potential.

    1. fredwilson

      Exactly. Not for the faint of heart

      1. ShanaC

        Do you prefer pulled chickens or fried eggs then? Because this one is going to be a tough one to get through.

        1. Vladimir Vukicevic

          I prefer omelets….and I do think that Boxee can be successful even if they have to do a deal with the devil (i.e. cable providers) for a while. From what I’ve seen the product seems compelling – their biggest problem is that they might be offering a solution not based on a need yet, i.e. they’re too early and could run out of money.

          1. fredwilson

            Well they don’t burn very much and they’ve got a lot in the bank now. One of the many reasons I like this company is they are scrappy and do a lot with a little. Which is key if you are operating on the bleeding edge. Its about bleeding lightly until you are no longer on the bleeding edge

          2. Vladimir Vukicevic

            Those are the types of insights that are hard to see from the outside – I can understand how critics who don’t have that internal perspective can’t objectively criticize the new investment in Boxee.

          3. ShanaC

            Are their communities out there interested in porting to devices for the sake of just moving the first three along. Computers are great and all, but you talk to the 83 year old crowd and they can barely use email. This will probably be the first social networking client they interact with out of the box. As odd as it sounds would getting a community to work on goal four make it easier to work towards goals 1-3?So difficult without knowing the internals, and without even knowing who their first real target demographic is (I know that this community may or may not be…)

  5. daryn

    I agree that two or three might have sufficed, but I think it’s especially important that now that they’ve identified the four things, they make sure that they put the appropriate amount of effort into each of them.It’s very easy to get caught up in any one thing, and in tangents, so knowing that “these are the 4 things we are focusing on”, keeps everyone on track. I’d suggest they put the four bullet points up on the wall in their office, so everyone gets a daily reminder.

  6. Kyle S

    One thought regarding the third point: though Apple would never allow a competitor to use it, it would make a lot of sense for Boxee to license the ability to pay with a user’s Apple account (and use iTunes gift cards / the user’s linked credit card, etc) for things it sells. I suppose Google Checkout is another possibility. Is there a reason why startups tend not to outsource this function? As a user, I would place more trust in a 3rd party service. It strikes me that once people “cross the Rubicon” and decide to spend money once, the barrier to doing so a second time is much lower (and lower still for each subsequent occurrence). Apple has made paying for apps and songs so frictionless and commonplace that I don’t even think twice about buying an app I want, though I would hesitate before doing so on Boxee.Something to think about.

    1. harpos_blues

      Kyle,Apple *does not* provide an API to their payment service (unlike Amazon or Google). In fact, iTunes payment utilizes an e-commerce service from a company named “Click and Buy” ( which specializes in e-commerce for digital (non-physical) media. Click and Buy also handles transactions for Skype and several large gaming platforms.On one hand, I’m amazed that e-commerce has evolved to the point where transactions can be seamless and invisible to the consumer, and on the other hand, I am continually amazed at comments on technology-focused blogs that present “wish-lists” of features to a vendor. The comments on these so-called technology blogs often indicate that the readers have very little understanding of the technology being blathered about.

      1. ShanaC

        I’m not. People specialize. And we all come in from our own little niches to come and learn.

  7. rod_edwards

    Congratulations to the Boxee team on the big round. Investors are waving a flag here: there’s a chance to rewire the pipe to living room, and Boxee is a part of that. Go get ’em!

  8. ErikSchwartz

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but Boxee is really not about rewiring the pipe to the living room. It’s about making sure the living room has appropriate fixtures (to beat the plumbing metaphor to death); that the living room consumption experience is enjoyable, social, and seamless. To assure recommendations come from trusted sources. To gather implicit data about consumption and use that to dynamically make suggestions.It seems how the programming gets to the living room is entirely moot. In fact if Boxee does its job right the end user will have no idea how the content got there and furthermore, they won’t care.

    1. rod_edwards

      Erik – I think were both right. The vision of users not caring how content gets to their living room is the right one, and the one toward which Boxee is (I believe) is working. The re-wiring comes from the fact that the pipe is currently controlled by entrenched interests (cable co’s, dish net, etc.), where as Boxee offers a pipe that’s as open as http.Boxee may focus on the fixtures side of it, but ultimately the ability to rate what you’re watching from your living room pales in comparison to the fundamental fact that what you’re watching has arrived over an agnostic pipe. Perhaps its not something that users will or should care about, but it would seem that investors (and tech prognosticators) recognize the game-changing potential in products of this nature.Or — maybe I’m totally off base and seeing more than there is here.

      1. ErikSchwartz

        Boxee’s success or failure will be based on nailing the living room experience, making sure the programming people want is available, and making sure the data generated by consumption comes with clean APIs .Boxee is not offering a pipe, they are leveraging existing pipes and counting on new pipes. The pipe is always going to be owned by somebody and that somebody will always need to be paid.

        1. rod_edwards

          Erik, one set of pipes defines what they will or will not allow through the pipe, into your living room. Another set allows you to do as you please. Yes, the pipe will be owned, but implicit in Boxee’s model is that a “free choice” pipe is preferable over a restricted content pipe. No, Boxee is not offering a pipe, but in giving consumers the winning experience that you’re talking about, they are giving consumers a reason to choose a free pipe over a closed one.User interface sells widgets. Free vs. closed changes industries.

          1. ErikSchwartz

            Pace,No argument that open is better than closed.No argument that Boxee would be a better product on an open network rather than a closed one.That said, I think that Boxee could be could be a very successful product (i.e. help people have a better viewing experience and make a lot of money) even on a closed network.Boxee is Android for TV.

          2. ShanaC

            That being said, just to throw it out there, what is the likelyhood of success or failure for our favorite little Robot being created/bought/worked on by Google. I’m hearing good to great things about ‘droid phones, but I don’t see lots of them around walking around.Is that a potential fate for Boxee? Or is it just a slower upward growth curve for both?

          3. ErikSchwartz

            You’ll see a boatload of Android users by the end of 2010. They’ll be on Sprint, VZW, and T-mo. I bet they pass iPhone’s installed base by 2011. If I had to hazard a guess it will be the smartphone of the tween set in less than a year.I was given a Google Ion (which is pretty much an unlocked MyTouch). It’s a nice phone. ASE is amazing, especially when combined with Locale. Rodgers in Canada is has it for $79 (Canadian).

          4. ShanaC

            What feature(s) if any is going to give them that cache? I’m keeping track, and I hear all the time about bbm..and I know in the end…I know well 😉

          5. ErikSchwartz

            We’re totally off topic but the answer is Android Scripting Environment.…H.S. kids can write Python scripts. Heck, my 7 year old writes python scripts on her XO.That combined with more carrier choices, prepaid plans, and cheaper handsets

          6. ShanaC

            I know, it is called picking brains while you have them there. 😀

          7. fredwilson

            Your 7 old writes python scripts? Sheese. And I thought my kids were ahead of the curve!

          8. ErikSchwartz

            Ellie wanted to know what every icon on her XO did. So we wandered into python. She’s writing basic input/concatenation scripts.What pleases me about it is she fundamentally understands that computers are not magic, they do what they’re told. Most adults don’t get that.

          9. ShanaC

            What textbook are they using. Or is she not? I want appropriate one for seven year olds. They are more entertaining than the ones for adults, I find them really boring… (that’s the problem they give the worst problems to learn something basic…We learned about division through pizza, why can’t they do the same for comp sci???)

          10. fredwilson

            I love it. Particularly from a girl. That’s outstanding

          11. fredwilson

            In my girl’s social circles, BBM is the communication system and as a result they all use blackberries

          12. ShanaC

            You know why I ask Fred ;-)…I’m getting some interesting facebook posts from one friend, but you don’t FB and tell.So, Umm, when do you want to see that post, you know?

          13. fredwilson

            Open source takes time.

          14. ShanaC

            Of course. That’s why people love/hate it. Certain things are sped up/made better by not being open source. Other chocies, not so much. You tend to get better coding/more features from open sources. But that is not the end all be all.EG: One of the interesting Choices of the Unbuntu Community was that they ahve a totally separate team of designers for the front level. They knew if they didn’t have one design team making one design decision, the project would be a usability mess. So the actual look/feel is a total top down from the company releasing it, because otherwise it would be unusable from the “Just too much” school and the “why is that button here” school.

  9. Mark Zohar

    Personally, I think Boxee is a clumsy and cumbersome stop-gap solution until Apple ships its own branded HDTV or partners with HDTV manufacturers to offer full built-in Safari browser support, integrated iTunes and App Store and use of the iPhone as TV remote. Now that’s a living room experience!

    1. fredwilson

      well i agree that apple will do thisboxee is android to apple’s apple tv

  10. ShanaC

    You know what devices I think it should be on Fred. Or at least working with. ;)I culdn’t even test it before, not enough memory, not a strong enough card, which I think is a failing. Don’t assume everyone has hot new equipment out there. I still know a few people running on some very old architecture. So it wasn’t just a me thing.Speaking of which, I need a fresh install. I’m on a new computer…First Apple, not totally sure what is flying.

  11. Riaz Kanani

    I am guessing all that is still focused within the North America market only?

    1. fredwilson

      Not really. Boxee is used a lot outside the US

      1. nuxnix

        Boxee is woefully unwatchable on my AppleTV for BBC iPlayer which is just about all thats useful without an anonymising proxy to allow you to pick up US content. I know you dont think ATV is much of a platform but it works well for Apple and your setup video, talks endlessly about reusing old clunker hardware.

        1. Riaz Kanani

          Yes I have to reiterate Angus here – I tried using Boxee (a good 4-5 months ago) and love the UI but found the lack of local UK content meant I never continued to use it.

  12. kenberger

    Boxee is the central driver of my home PC Media Center project, where I’ve said goodbye to cable forever.I am dumbfounded by how useful and disruptive this product is, even in its alpha form. Folks who are having performance problems should ensure they have the latest version– major fixes came a month or 2 ago.It’s also notable indeed how open the company is being about future plans. Ballsy but I think worth the risk (many would criticize that this behavior signals the 800 lb gorillas pre-maturely, I think that risk is outweighed by allowing the crowds to help shape the product, and other factors).

    1. fredwilson

      I agree about transparency Ken. I think its the way most companies should play the game these days

  13. bombtune

    I think Boxee is a short-term solution to the gap between Internet and TV and that the big cable companies will soon grasp this Internet connected TV-market. The consoles (Xbox and Boxee) will just be another way to access, but may be more savvy with apps.

  14. Chris Phenner

    While the reader comments to this post just lynched Boxee’s stability (wow), I think the point of Fred’s post was missed entirely — like just about every post. An early stage company knows and is willing to say publicly exactly what it wants to do. I’m not sure proper (if any) credit was given to how rare that is — I take my hat off to that.

    1. fredwilson

      The stability that is ‘getting lynched’ is on appletv, a platform Boxee has struggled with. They have worked hard to make the software work well on appletv but its underpowered for what boxee is unfortunatelyYou are right that many missed my point but I’m happy that we got that feedback. its always good to hear the truth, even when it hurts

  15. Glenn Gutierrez

    Awesome news about boxee! That gives us as developers even more incentive to quickly find ways to build on to the Boxee platform. Also, I’ve sent you a private invite code to PopScreen in response to the “Watch Later” Project to your email address. I hope you like what you see.

    1. fredwilson

      I’ll look for that email. Thanks