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boxee and its Implications for Apple TV

boxee is an app for Windows, Linux or Mac that collects, in one place, feeds from Hulu, Netflix, CBS, ABC, Joost and others. The user can access local content or that on the Internet, and it's also a social site that promotes sharing. This kind of product creates new problems (or opportunities) for Apple in converting the Apple TV from a hobby to a big money maker during a deep recession.

I've been curious about boxee for some time because there's a version that runs on Apple TV in addition to the major OSes. (However, the installation on Apple TV is not for everyone, and it likely voids the warranty.) To get a feel for boxee, I installed the alpha version 0.9.8 on a MacBook Pro and started to, well, have an amazing experience.

boxee screen shot

boxee Internet options (Mac OS X screen shot)

The first thing I learned was the reason to have an account on That's so that one can login via boxee. That said, it appears that not all the content and features available on a direct connect to are available through boxee. was not available via boxee during my testing, however was, and I was able to watch part of the latest NCIS that I missed lately. I was also able to check out the latest episode of 24. That's good because a DIRECTV technician, fixing an issue with my dish, reset the family DVR and blew away all the episodes I'd been saving up to view later.

I was also able to catch the hilarious Colbert Report from February 4 with Steve Martin. I am beginning to see why there are reports of people canceling their cable TV accounts and living on the Internet with boxee. In addition, for those with a Netflix account, boxee provides access to streamed movies, even if in HD.

The picture is starting come into focus here.

First, in a time of economic slowdown, people are looking to watch content without paying a lot of money. If one can connect a computer on the Internet to an HDTV, there's a wealth of material that doesn't need to be arranged as legacy "appointment television." That is, one can watch the latest episode of many popular TVs shows ... whenever, not just on the appointed night. And if there's no DVR in the house and an episode of, say, Chuck was missed, just backtrack and catch up on

That means that the day of just blatantly paying for episodes on an Apple TV with a credit card to avoid commercials may be slightly imperiled. Netflix was one of the companies to report good earnings and revenue last quarter. There's a reason for that: people can stay home and watch TV shows and movies on their big LCD HDTV - as many as they want for about $10/month.

While there were recent reports on the Apple TV doing quite well at Christmas, Apple TV sales had not been that great prior to then in my estimation. In October, 2008, in a Hidden Dimensions column, I estimated that Apple had sold about 450,000 units from introduction up until then. Even if the Apple TV sales rate tripled in the Christmas quarter, the total is likely still significantly under a million. However, Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster puts the number at over 2 million in 2008 alone. I liked my math better. In any case, Apple still declines to report sales, which means they're nothing to be proud of.

In contrast, Reuters reported today that Netflix claimed one million accounts on Xbox consoles. That's just a piece of Netflix's distribution model. As a result, one has to wonder if Apple is missing the boat by not striking a deal with Netflix. Apple absolutely wants to sell content, but in a recession, working with Netflix could help sell a lot more Apple TVs. Forget about all that DVR and tuner chatter.

Finally, I wonder if Apple has pulled a fast one by jumping to DisplayPort and bypassing HDMI. Indeed, DisplayPort is more modern and supports a higher resolution than 1080 x 1920. But it also has the distinct advantage of keeping Macintoshes from easily connecting to HDTVs while Apple gets its act together with Apple TV. It was a clever move.

There are boxes that convert USB video and DisplayPort video to HDMI, and I'll be reporting on one soon. In the meantime, boxee may be able to succeed where Joost failed - lots of desirable content all collected in one place.

The delicate balance for Apple is to weigh the income from hardware and that of content sales on the Apple TV. Apple isn't making a whole lot of money on the Apple TV, compared to Macs and iPhones, so something dramatic has to be done to make the Apple TV hardware more desirable. Meanwhile, the rest of the industry is about the business of giving people tremendous choices. Those multiple choices, DIRECTV, VOD, AT&T U-verse, Cable, Internet, Blu-ray are creating such a fragmentation that many users are now content to focus on a single, unconventional method. For example, to the exclusion of everything else.

That's probably why the Apple TV is lingering. Apple can't figure out which of these new "channel" methods to approach its users on, especially in light of the high cost of single high definition TV episodes, that will ignite demand for the hardware. Whether Apple likes it or not, to make the Apple TV hardware more attractive, the company may have to open the doors a little with strategic partnerships. Boxee and/or Netflix, with back room revenue sharing deals, looks pretty good right now.

10 comments from the community.

You can post your own below.

brett_x said:

Ahhhh…. Boxee. It is the first content delivery system that has allowed me to seriously consider canceling cable. I’ve only been using it for a week or so. But from my limited time with it, I think they have a really good thing going. You have all of hulu’s content, plus Netflix and quite a few other sources (including Comedy Central). But the interface is very nicely designed. It’s almost Apple-like in it’s simplicity.

One note: It is NOT available for Windows yet… they’re working on it. But right now it’s only for Mac and Linux. (Isn’t that a refreshing change?) I suspect that the intention was to develop something that Apple would want to buy. It would be the final piece of the puzzle if it was added to AppleTV.


Anthony Cushing said:

I appreciate this review and analysis of Boxee. I, too, have toyed with it and think it would be a great alternative to the GUI that Apple has included on the Apple TV, but its shortfall is entirely external: Geoblocking. I live in Canada, not even an hour from Detroit, yet it renders 80% of the content unviewable. In that respect, Boxee, for Canadians, is useful only as a media player with great support for some of the more esoteric video codecs, but not for Apple’s downloads.


palenoue said:

While it looks hopeful, they need to do some serious work on navigation.  There’s no “Back” button, so if you end up somewhere you don’t want to be, you have to start it all over again, you can’t go back one or two steps like all other programs do.  They also need to work on a search program.  A recommendation function would be very handy, too.


John Martellaro said:

Indeed, I noticed the lack of navigation controls as well. Perhaps due to the fact that boxee picks up a feed, so interactive controls are a little trickier.
- J.M.


Yawn! said:

AppleTv + Boxee + Netflix is a game changer.  Here is the Netflix hack

You do not need to open the appletv and you may reset it at any time using factory restore.

The patchstick will plug into the appletv USB and install programs like Launcher (XMBC and Boxee) NitoTV and Couch surfer -  this allows you to use SSH, SMB, Play DVD’s, and mount drivers from remote computers.

Items you need:

a mac to use the console

1 flash drive - to make patchstick
2. usb hub
3. keyboard and mouse

1. Make an atvusb-creator patchstick, then install it

2. Install Firefox and the Silverlight 2.0 plugin from Awkward TV, using the SSH capabilities unlocked by the atvusb-creator patchstick.

(skip the instructions down to install firefox as the patchstick will set up the keyboard and mouse pointer for you)

A. You do not have to install core-audio for this to work. 

B. The keyboard and mouse only work in boxee and firefox so you will need your remote

3. Stream Netflix Watch Now through Firefox on Apple TV, using a keyboard and mouse

(since flash is not installed “you can install flash” the join Netflix item will not appear put you can sign in as a member and all is good).

The Firefox app will appear in NitoTV under applications. 



deasys said:

“In October, 2008, in a Hidden Dimensions column, I estimated that Apple had sold about 450,000 units from introduction up until then”

Actually, Munster estimated 2.9 million units:

Now, add in the news of tripling in the Christmas quarter… You number is way off, John, and therefore so is the foundation of your article.


John Martellaro said:

My understanding was that the rate of sales had tripled in one quarter. (That’s 3 out of the 19 months preceding.)  Not that the Christmas quarter tripled the total sales to date prior to the quarter. Big difference.
- J.M.


davilla said:

XBMC developer/atvusb-creator author here;

AppleTV sales increased 3X over the quarter. Humm, that’s right about the time when I released the first Launcher that enabled running XBMC and Boxee on the AppleTV. Downloads skyrocketed to over 100k in less than two months and I know from feedback that many were first time users that bought an AppleTV just to run XBMC or Boxee.

My estimates are 1-3 million sold based on hard download data.


aardman said:

There’s a big stinking horsefly in the ointment when it comes to TV over internet though.  It goes by the initials “ISP”.  We all know that they’re just itching to levy ‘congestion pricing’ on people who have committed money setting up their TV over IP rigs.  They’re not breathing a word about it right now but once a few million people have made the investment, just watch your ISP rates grow.


motopsyco said:


You said it.

Comcast has set a 250GB a month “limit” which I think will hold me for a while. Just last night, for the first time, I watched only streaming content. Mainly the higher resolution media off Hulu. By the end of my evening I had nearly streamed 5GBs of data. Add into this my season passes from the iTunes, I’m estimating that as my habits progress I’ll need to begin to manage my data “consumption” within a year or so. I’ve been monitoring the progress of projects like boxxee and XBMC, happy to see that such solutions are maturing.

I’m really hoping to go 90% IP as soon as I can.



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