Posts from Boxee


Yesterday as I was getting off a plane, I saw this tweet on my phone and replied to it:

Jason probably tweeted that news at me because of the HBO No Go post from last August in which I expressed my exasperation that I could not airplay the HBO Go content from my iPad to my TV via  AppleTV. So that nuttiness has been addressed by HBO. Nicely done HBO.

But there's more to ask of them. It would be nice if the HBO Go app came pre-installed on connected devices like AppleTV, Roku, Boxee. It would also be nice if HBO Go supported AllShare so Samsung users could have the same thing that Apple users have.

HBO’s Eric Kessler said yesterday at an AllThingsD event that "Our long-term goal for Go is to be on all devices and all platforms." That is exactly right. That's what Netflix has done for years now and that is what HBO needs to do.

Slowly but surely HBO is evolving to being more like Netflix and that's a good thing for its subscribers. Now if we could only subscribe without having to go through a cable company. But we've already talked about that this month and I don't expect that to happen so quickly for all the reasons we discussed in the comments to that post.


Boxee TV

Our portfolio company Boxee announced their next generation device today called Boxee TV.

Boxee has always been about making it as easy as possible to watch TV over the Internet and Boxee TV represents years of listening to customers wants, needs, and desires. The result is a trifecta of Internet TV goodness:

1) Free Broadcast Channels in HD

2) No Limits DVR – record as much as you want and watch wherever you want

3) Internet apps like Netflix, Vudu, YouTube & Vimeo

Avner's post on Boxee TV has more details.

Boxee TV will cost $99 and will be available in early November. Sign up to get an email when it launches.

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ClearQAM - What It Is And Why It Matters

There are millions of homes and apartments around the country that have a TV connected to a cable but have no set-top box and no video service from their local cable provider. These TV viewers either moved into a home or apartment where the previous owner had cable and the wire was still lying around. Or they are getting their broadband Internet over cable. Either way, when you connect a cable directly to most modern TVs, you can get the broadcast channels in HD without a set top box. And in doing this, you are not breaking any laws. This is perfectly legal.

The technology behind this is called ClearQAM. QAM is a modulation scheme that allows the transmission of digital TV channels on an analog RF cable. Because of a number of rules and regulations, cable televesion companies are required to provide access to the broadcast channels in the clear – thus the name ClearQAM. This whole thing is outlined pretty well in this Engadget post from a few years ago.

There are other ways to get the broadcast channels without a set-top box. You can put up an antenna and pull down them over the air for free. But for many locations, the cable is a better way to get the broadcast channels reliably.

Why am I telling all of you this? Because the cable industry is currently lobbying the FCC for a rulemaking that would allow them to encrypt QAM and shut down this whole bypass mechanism causing millions of TVs to go dark. And there aren’t many voices out there opposing this rulemaking request. Our portfolio company Boxee‘s is one of the few that has spoken out. Their presentation to the FCC on this matter is online and is worth a quick read.

Getting rid of QAM isn’t a bad idea in the long run. But encrypting the broadcast channels is not the best way to do that. Putting direct IP access to the broadcast channels on the cables is a much better approach.

It has always been the policy of our government that the broadcast channels are meant to be freely available over the air and by other means. There is no reason to change this policy now just because the cable companies want every home and apartment to have one of their set-top boxes and a paying subscription from them.

If you would like to reach out to the FCC and let them know what you think of this proposed rulemaking, you can do that here.


Boxee Box Launch

BoxeeLaunch1 If you've never been to a Boxee launch event, you owe it to yourself to change that. They are somewhat wild and crazy events, with a good dose of geeking out. On November 10th, in NYC, Boxee will host yet another launch event, this time to celebrate the shipping of the Boxee Box in partnership with DLink.

 The event is from 7pm to 10pm at Irving Plaza, in the Union Square neighborhood. The RSVP page is here.

I will be there along with a bunch of friends. I hope I'll see you there.


TV and The Digital Living Room

Mark Suster wrote a long investment research report on the "The Future of TV and Digital Living Room" opportunity on his blog last night. I don't know how he has time to crank out these amazing blog posts on a regular basis. But he did it and it is very comprehensive. You should read it.

We've got a horse in this race with Boxee. I spend a lot of time thinking about where this sector is going. And I agree with almost all of Mark's analysis and conclusions. This is an investable space with big outcomes. But you have to swim with sharks (content owners) and walk at the feet of elephants (Google, Apple, Microsoft, Sony, Samsung, etc).

The Internet has mostly been a level playing field where the best product wins. That has not been the case in the world of big media and CE. Money talks loudly in that world. So it is still unclear whether Internet economics will work in this sector. But I am hopeful. If it prevails, this will be a very interesting market sector to invest in for the next decade (at least).

Yesterday I was at Sony's offices in NYC and got to play with the new GoogleTV powered big screens. Here's a screen shot of my twitter stream on the Sony GoogleTV (with the tweet I wrote on it on top).

Google tv

Sony has some cool products coming out that are powered by GoogleTV including big screens like this one and blu-ray players that double as GoogleTV boxes. If you are working in this sector or are interested in seeing where all of this is headed, you should go to a store and play around with them.

I don't think AppleTV, GoogleTV, and Boxee are yet what they can be and will be. There is more high quality streaming content available every day. These software/services for managing, navigating, and discovering it will improve a lot in the coming years.

But I do believe that the old model of TV and Film creation, distribution, and consumption is changing rapidly. Mark's "report" outlines how and why. And with change comes opportunity. In this case big opportunity.

#VC & Technology#Web/Tech

Some Happenings In Our Portfolio

Yesterday, I saw an informal survey of our portfolio companies. One of the questions was "what can we help you with?"  One of the answers was "get Fred to blog more about us."

That gave me a good chuckle. Regular readers know that I do blog a fair bit about our portfolio companies but I also try to keep it balanced. Too much pimping of the portfolio doesn't make for a good VC blog.

All that said, this is a blog post about some happenings in our portfolio.

1) Yesterday Twitter announced a new version of their web client. They are rolling it out already. I got it sometime last night. It is a two pane interface. You click on a tweet and open up a second pane with a lot of additional data on that tweet, including embeds of videos and photos. If you have the iPad Twitter client, you'll immediately understand. One thing I wish they would have included from the iPad client is the full page behind the link. I love reading on the iPad client that way and I wish the they had included that feature in the new web client. I think this is a big improvement to the web client and congratulations to the engineering and product teams who designed and built it.

2) On Monday, Boxee put their Boxee Box up for pre-order on Amazon. It is currently #6 in electronics and was as high as #4 yesterday. The Boxee promise is "Watch What You Want":

We get it – you want to the freedom to watch whatever you want on your TV: Movies, TV Shows, Sports, but also any other video that is available online. You want to do it without having to connect a computer to your TV or use a keyboard and mouse. We’re all over it. The Boxee Box by D-Link: watch, organize, share – you are now in full command of your TV for the first time. No rules, no contracts.

If you want to watch everything you can watch on your laptop on your TV, check out the Boxee Box. It should ship soon.

3) Twilio lowered prices for inbound and outbound calls made on its telephony API. Here are the new prices:

Twilio pricing
I've gotten feedback on this blog in previous posts about Twilio that their prices seemed high. As Twilio generates more volume, they will drive prices down and pass them onto their developers. As it should be.

4) Get Glue launched an iPad client. I used it to check into several TV shows on Sunday and each time I did that, there were between 50 and 100 people checked into the same TV shows. It's a really cool app to have on the family room coffee table while watching TV, reading books, and listening to music and such. If you haven't tried it, check it out.


I am sure I've missed a bunch of other happenings in our portfolio in the past week. I might make this a regular feature here on AVC to alleviate that issue. I'm curious what all of you think about that.

#VC & Technology

From Twitter and Facebook To Boxee

About a month ago, Boxee released a new build. I dutifully installed it but then we moved and it's taken me most of the past month to get my audio and video setup in our new home back to where it was in our old place. This past weekend I got our mac mini set up and loaded up Boxee. And here's what my feed looked like:

Boxee feed

That first video was not shared via Boxee (like the next two were), it came from a friend of my son's via Facebook. It's a pretty funny video from This Just In.

Boxee also pulls videos from your Twitter feed. So now there are multiple ways for videos to get into your Boxee feed. You get videos that are shared by people you follow on Boxee, Facebook, and Twitter.

A few months ago I posted about the Boxee bookmarklet which I use all the time to "watch later." I've stopped interrupting my day watching videos that I come across on the web and email and I load up Boxee after dinner and do my video watching from the comfort of my family room. Now I can do that with Facebook and Twitter too. Very cool. Thanks Boxee.

Also, you should check out that second video called Up There. It is a really neat 13 minute documentary about the people who paint large advertisements on NYC buildings.

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#VC & Technology

Boxee Payments

Well I'm stuck at the Virgin America terminal at JFK this morning. Due to the stormy weather today in SF, my flight has been pushed back by three hours. Fortunately, I've got my laptop, wifi, my sleeper hoodie with headphones cranking, and some interesting stuff to write about.

Our portfolio company Boxee announced its payments service this morning with this line:

Users want to see more content on Boxee. Content owners want to be paid for what they produce (whether that’s TV Shows, movies, music, or applications). We don’t believe these are conflicting interests.

Contrary to what Boxee's competitors have been telling big media for the past year, Boxee aren't pirates. They have always respected rights holders and their desires to find a new business model on the open internet. And this payment platform should make that abundantly clear.

Here's how it will work:

users will be able to make purchases with one click on the remote. The content partners we launch with will offer shows, movies and channels that were previously not available to Boxee users. The content owners will be able to package and price as they wish, including pay-per-view and subscription. Content partners will have the flexibility to decide what they make available, whether it’s premium content, content from their existing library, or extras that will never make it “on air”…. Boxee will charge a small fee (i.e. lower than the 30% charged by many app stores) for transactions which we enable. 

For those who don't know, Boxee is free open source software that you can download and run on Windows, Mac, and Linux powered devices that are connected to your TV. Boxee's software is also free for consumer electronics companies to build connected devices and TVs for the family room and living room. I like to think of Boxee as "android for TVs."

I watch my kids and here's what I've seen. There is almost no difference between a laptop and a TV to them. They move seamlessly between the two. The only difference is what content is available on each. What do they want? They want all the content in the entire world available to them on their laptop and their TV. They want them to be the same thing. And they are very willing to pay for content. What they are not accepting of is content owners prohibiting them to watch what they want to watch where they want to watch it.

The new model for entertainment is "over the top" and it's going to happen. As Avner Ronen says in the Boxee payments blog post:

It’s our belief that the Internet is ready to become the 4th method of distribution for broadcast & premium content after Cable, Satellite, and IPTV (FiOS, u-Verse, etc.). In the case of Satellite and IPTV, it took an act of congress to open up these delivery methods. This time it’s people who are demanding this change.

If you are a content owner and want to partcipate in this new open model for content distribution, either free and ad supported or subscriptions powered by Boxee payments, please reach out to Boxee. They will be happy to help you make the transition and make money doing it.

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The $160 Lesson: Apps Beat Devices

We have Mac Minis connected to all the TVs in our home. I've been using a RF-based keyboard/mouse combo device for several years and not loving it. So one of my new years' resolutions was to find a better approach for our family. Last week, I went out and bought an Apple Wireless Keyboard (bluetooth) and a Gyration Air Mouse (RF). I figured I'd try to fix our main family room setup first and then roll out the solution to the rest of the house.

I had them shipped to my office and was taking them home on Friday. I showed the Gyration Air Mouse which is super cool looking to Andrew and he casually said "I like the Mobile Air Mouse app on the iPhone". I filed that away and went home with my hardware excited about what I had purchased.

I got the Apple Wireless Keyboard to pair with my mac mini and it works well. But like many bluetooth devices, I had some weird pairing issues on reboot and other times and it wasn't as reliable as it needs to be in our family room. And I completely failed on the Gyration Air Mouse. I could not get it to work on my Mac Mini or on my Mac laptop either (I tried that just to see if there was something awry with the Mac Mini). I am not sure if the Gyration Air Mouse issue is operator error (me) or something wrong with the one I bought. Who cares at the end of the day? I could not get it to work.

So in frustration, I pulled out the iPod touch we use as a Sonos and Boxee remote in our family room and downloaded the Mobile Air Mouse app from the iTunes store for $1.99. You have to download free "server software" for the device from the Mobile Air Mouse website as well.

Guess what? Andrew was right. It works very well. And you get a trackpad and a keyboard (iPhone style keyboard) all for $1.99.

The Apple keyboard was roughly $80 and the Gyration Air Mouse was about the same. $160 down the drain. The $2 solution was better.

Of course, for this to work you'll need to have a $200 iTouch handy. But honestly, I could have spent $200 on the iTouch and added $2 for the Air Mouse and it would not have been much more than what I spent on the keyboard and mouse.

Bottom line for me: apps beat devices. Lesson learned. Relatively cheaply.

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