Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

Boxee: Either Jeff Zucker or Jason Kilar Is Lying About Booting Us Off Hulu

Little Boxee, the much hyped Web video service, played a cameo role at today’s Congressional hearings on the Comcast (CMCSA)-NBCU deal. And as sometimes happens when Boxee and big media intersect, controversy ensued.

The short version: Rep. Rick Boucher, the Virginia Democrat who heads the Subcommittee on Communications, Technology and the Internet, asked NBC head Jeff Zucker about last year’s incident involving Hulu’s effort to bar Boxee from using its feed.

At the time, Hulu CEO Jason Kilar said his actions were prompted by his “content owners,” which most people, including me, assumed meant GE’s (GE) NBC and/or News Corp.’s (NWS) Fox, the media conglomerates that had invested in the video service.

But today at the hearings, Zucker pointed the finger back at Hulu (full clip at bottom of this post):

This was a decision made by the Hulu management to, uh, 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.

In a blog post, Boxee CEO Avner Ronen points out the seeming inconsistency between the two statements–though he’s incorrect in saying that Kilar blamed NBC, because Kilar didn’t actually say that in his original blog post. That makes sense, because Kilar is one careful and cautious dude, which you have to be when you’re running a joint venture that’s now co-owned by three big media conglomerates.

Ronen also restates his general case–that Boxee is not much more than a Web browser, so it’s not taking anyone’s content at all, just displaying it, ads and all. And from what I can tell, that argument is gaining increasing traction among some big media players.

But while I’ve never been able to get a straight answer from Hulu or its owners about the Boxee incident, I do get the sense that it’s one issue that sticks in the collective craw of Hulu managers. So I’m not sure things are going to get resolved anytime soon at that site.

I’ve asked Hulu and NBC for comment and will update if I hear back.