Samsung Kills Top-Secret Plan to Reinvent the Remote Control, Lays Off Boxee Staff (Exclusive)

Samsung Layoffs
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Samsung’s ambitious plan to replace the TV remote is dead.

The Korean consumer electronics giant quietly shuttered an ambitious initiative last month that was internally known as “Perfect Experience,” or PX, Variety has learned. Samsung laid off dozens of staffers as part of the wind-down, many of whom had joined the company after it acquired the assets of smart TV startup Boxee in 2013. Former Boxee CEO Avner Ronen, who worked as VP of product for Samsung, has also left the company, according to multiple sources.

“It is our policy to not comment on rumors, speculation or personnel matters,” said a rep for Samsung, who declined to address anything specific. “What I can tell you is that in order to continuously innovate, we constantly invest in areas of our business that enhance the Samsung experience for our consumers.”

At the center of PX, which had been in development for around two years, was a dedicated media tablet that aimed to replace the traditional TV remote. The tablet was supposed to give users access to a unified guide with listings of live TV and streaming content with a custom-built user interface that looked unlike any traditional multi-purpose mobile device, according to multiple sources familiar with the project.

In a way, it was similar to Google’s Chromecast streaming stick, which lets users launch videos from their mobile devices. The difference was that Samsung wanted to build a communal device that wouldn’t be controlled by just one family member, but reside on the coffee table. Something that wasn’t running dozens of other apps, but be custom-built as a next-generation remote control.

Samsung was also looking to partner with a number of streaming services, and even pay-TV service operators, to include their apps and content on the tablet. The company planned to include the tablet with all of its higher-end TVs in the U.S. The plan was to not only replace the traditional remote control, but also reinvent how consumers discover and watch content with smart TVs. “It was a very bold initiative,” said one source with knowledge of the project.

PX was being built by the team behind Boxee, the startup best known for the Boxee Box media streaming device. Samsung acquired Boxee’s assets and team two years ago after the startup had run out of money. The PX team initially got significant resources from Samsung, and was able to grow its headcount from around 40 to close to 100 employees, according to a source. Some of this growth was fueled by smaller acquisitions, which included the online video startup Shelby.tv.

Samsung kept the team in a separate office in New York, shielding them from other divisions within the company and even keeping some of the developers working on Samsung’s smart TVs in the dark about the nature of the project.

However, the work on PX hit a number of roadblocks along the way.

Samsung at one point planned to bundle the tablet with 2015 smart TVs, and aimed to launch the product at CES in Las Vegas this past January. However, the project didn’t come together in time, and executives decided to postpone shipment to later in 2015, only to further postpone it to 2016 a few months later.

One reason for the delays was that discussions with content partners didn’t go as planned. Samsung wanted to directly integrate content into its guide, taking away the need to switch from app to app to watch videos from different sources. But many services are notoriously protective of their app experience, and unwilling to let anyone else in the driver’s seat.

PX also faced significant internal pressure. The project was “highly controversial,” said one source, and it faced significant resistance from Samsung’s Korean executives, who were wary of a product developed out of their reach in the U.S. Multiple sources mentioned internal politics as one of the main reasons PX ended up on the chopping block.

In the end, the closure of the PX project may also be part of a bigger move within Samsung to reassess its U.S.-based operations and concentrate on a few key revenue-generating initiatives, something that already led the company scale back on its media service initiatives and lay off staffers for its Milk Music and Milk Video apps.