Zucker Misses the Mark, Wrongly Accuses Boxee of Stealing

In a way, it’s kind of sad. The old media squealing and squirming, trying pathetically to hold on to a time that has long been lost to the sands of… Well, time. Jeff Zucker, President and CEO of NBC, made such a pathetic attempt before a US Congress committee yesterday, claiming Boxee stole Hulu’s content.

The hearing is taking place to investigate the proposed acquisition of NBC Universal by Comcast. During this hearing, Rep. Rick Boucher, the Chairman of the Subcommittee on Communications, Technology and the Internet, asked Zucker specifically about Boxee. “What about Boxee?” Boucher asked, “Did Hulu block the Boxee users from access to the Hulu programs?”

Zucker responded in a way that makes me think the guy – CEO no less – has no idea what he’s talking about. “This was a decision made by the Hulu management”, he stated, “What Boxee was doing was illegally taking the content that was on Hulu without any business deal. And, you know, all, all the, we have several distributors, actually many distributors of the Hulu content that we have legal distribution deals with so we don’t preclude distribution deals. What we preclude are those who illegally take that content.”

This seems weird for a number of reasons. The most obvious reason is that if Boxee stole Hulu’s content, than so did Chrome, Internet Explorer, Firefox, and every other browser capable of displaying Hulu. Boxee can be simply considered a browser which you can use to access Hulu (if you live in the US, obviously).

On the Boxee blog, Boxee Founder and CEO Avner Ronen distanced himself from the accusations. “Boxee uses a web browser to access Hulu’s content – just like Firefox or Internet Explorer,” he explained, “Boxee users click on a link to Hulu’s website and the video within that page plays. We don’t “take” the video. We don’t copy it. We don’t put ads on top of it. The video and the ads play like they do on other browsers or on Hulu Desktop. And it certainly is legal to do so.”

The second reason Zucker’s answer is weird is that he claims it was Hulu management who made the decision to block Boxee – this is decidedly not true. In a year-old blog post, Hulu CEO Jason Kilar announced the blocking of Hulu on Boxee, and he made it very clear that the decision to do so came from the content providers – and not from Hulu itself.

Our content providers requested that we turn off access to our content via the Boxee product, and we are respecting their wishes. While we stubbornly believe in this brave new world of media convergence – bumps and all – we are also steadfast in our belief that the best way to achieve our ambitious, never-ending mission of making media easier for users is to work hand in hand with content owners. Without their content, none of what Hulu does would be possible, including providing you content via Hulu.com and our many distribution partner websites.

The third and final reason Zucker’s answer is weird is a less verifiable one, but it has to do with the claimed willingness to negotiate with Boxee. “Mr. Zucker says they always said they are open to negotiations,” Ronen wrote, “That has not been our experience, but at this point, we will take Mr. Zucker’s offer at face value and will contact him.”

The world is changing – nay – the world has changed. People want their media delivered in different and more efficient ways, and the internet is the obvious transport medium here. Instead of embracing this new opportunity, content providers try to fight it, to absolutely no avail, of course. You’d think that by now, ten years down the line and several thorough beatings with the clue-stick later, they’d get the damn message.

If it hadn’t been for the internet, I would’ve never spent 160 EUR on my four seasons of Battlestar Galactica. They didn’t broadcast the show here, so the internet was my only opportunity to “test” it (which happens to be legal here). Without the internet, I would’ve never discovered I like The Gilmore Girls (I’ve heard all the jokes, people), and I certainly wouldn’t be saving up to spend 180 EUR on the special edition seven-season box set.

Content providers are short-sighted idiots. The market will take care of them.


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