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Boxee Cozies Up to Broadcasters With Rebranded DVR

Newly renamed Cloud DVR will try inserting fresh ads, says Ronen

LAS VEGAS – Boxee CEO Avner Ronen took the stage at the NAB Show Wednesday to explain why his company revamped and rebranded the Boxee TV just months after launch.

Boxee rebranded its box from Boxee TV to Boxee Cloud DVR and changed the services it offers. The device manufacturer is aiming to cooperate with broadcasters by trying a fresh approach to DVR, said Ronen.

“Our pitch to them is if we move the DVR to the cloud, we can do dynamic ad insertion, so instead of losing the ability to monetize that audience if they’re watching a week later or binge viewing if they’ve recorded the entire season, if you could serve fresh ads whenever somebody is watching it … that is a better way to monetize DVR.”

Ronen said he’s sympathetic to News Corp. COO Chase Carey’s Monday statement that if Aereo triumphs legally and politically, broadcast network Fox might become a cable channel. “They have a business based on advertising and retrans fees,” he said. Advertising is under attack from different directions, mostly from DVRs, and then going after the retrans fees—that leaves them with a business that’s hard to monetize.”

Boxee’s DVR features, which save programs to the cloud for viewing anywhere on many different devices, are only available in eight markets now, but the company is aiming to cover most of the U.S. by the end of 2013. The new device  also has radically trimmed the number of apps from around 400 to just a few.

“We looked at the original Boxee and any other connected TV experience where you have hundreds of apps, it doesn’t make the experience better, it makes the experience worse,” said Ronen. “You come back from work, you put the kids to sleep, you sit in front of the television, you just want to watch something. You don’t want to work hard. People want to escape, they want to relax. That led us to believe the future of TV is not apps, it’s the experience and the content.”

He noted just five apps, including Netflix, YouTube and Pandora, get the majority of use on all connected devices.

He said he is optimistic that the Internet will be a boon to the content biz – eventually. “There are going to be more audiences watching more video on more screens, a lot of new business models, a lot more people watching more stuff and being able to pay for it. I think eventually it’s going to be the best thing that’s ever happened to the media business but I think it’s going to take a while. In the meantime I hope the transition will not be too painful for the media business.”

He suggested that right now content providers may be too concerned with content protection, at the expense of viewer engagement.

“As soon as you limit access, piracy increases,” said Ronen. “We’ve seen in other industries the best way to combat piracy is to make content available and to create a great experience around it.

“I think the more dangerous thing for the industry, if you limit access to your content, is now there’s so much new content coming over the top, whether it’s YouTube or directly from artists and creators and people going on Kickstarter and getting funded directly by their audience. … If you make it too hard to get access to your content, if you don’t engage with your customers, either they’ll pirate it or worse, they’ll watch something else.”

Finally, asked about the long-rumored but perpetually delayed Apple TV, Ronen told keynote interview Christina Warren, a reporter at Mashable, “First I’ll give you the bullshit answer, then the honest answer. The bullshit answer is ‘It’s great if Apple comes in, it increases demand.’ Probably the more honest answer is: Apple can suck a lot of oxygen out of any space it goes into. It could drive more companies to put their content over the top… or it could suck all the oxygen towards Apple and leave us fighting for scraps.

“There’s no doubt they can crack the code on a beautiful user experience. The question is can they provide the content that we want? … It could be scary, it could be great. It’ll probably be somewhere in the middle and when people ask us, we’ll say that it’s great.”

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