The alpha test version of Boxee's online multimedia software for Windows PCs will be released to the public on June 23, Boxee founder Avner Ronen said Thursday.
At that point, anyone will be able to download the alpha, which currently is being distributed by invitation only.
Boxee is a free application that lets users access a wide variety of multimedia content in one interface and view it on their TVs or stereos. It is currently available only for the AppleTV device and Mac and Ubuntu Linux computers. It lets users choose among videos from YouTube, Hulu and other sources, as well as other content such as music and Flickr photos. Through a recently released API (application programming interface), content companies such as NetFlix and music service Pandora have introduced applications to work with Boxee.
At the Connections digital entertainment conference on Wednesday, Ronen said he thinks television is going the way of the Internet and all today's tech giants can do is get out of the way and let it happen.
Boxee is addressing the same general problem as other vendors at Connections, trying to build a multimedia delivery platform that satisfies the changing desires of consumers. But the company is going about it from a different angle from most, being neither a content, hardware, nor service provider. The key to Boxee's success is consumer choice, and those who can deliver that will win in the emerging video market, Ronen said during a panel discussion at the conference.
"Users just want freedom in their living room," Ronen said. With Boxee, they can hook an AppleTV or Mac or Ubuntu Linux computer up to the TV and choose among videos from YouTube, Hulu, network TV Web sites and other sources, as well as other content such as music and Flickr photos. Boxee has ruffled some feathers with this approach, but Ronen believes its strategy will prevail much as the Internet's did.
"If it's going to be the cable carrier, or the set-top box maker, or the chipmaker, or the box maker that decides what experience you get in your living room, it's going to be a fail," Ronen said. "The reason the Internet works is because it's open."
Established vendors such as Intel and Cisco Systems need to create an online video environment that's open enough for anyone to innovate, because the innovation will come from elsewhere, he said.
Boxee has opened itself up to outside developers, recently releasing an API for writing software that enhances the user's experience. Those applications are distributed free at a Boxee application store. For example, there are applications that let users queue up shows to watch later and to share their own personal videos and photos with their friends.
Speaking on a panel discussion at Connections, Ronen brushed off questions about revenue for the moment. The moderator, Parks Associates analyst Harry Wang, noted that Boxee had won the Consumer Electronics Association's i-stage competition in October 2008.
"We won a CEA competition," Ronen said. "We won [US]$50,000. That was our total revenue for last year. We actually beat our numbers by $50,000."
"This year we have the same goal, with a zero-dollar revenue by the end of the year. We're making it so far, I think we're going to beat it by a few shekels," Ronen said.
The venture-capital-backed Boxee does have some ideas about making money, Ronen said in an interview Thursday.
It could collect money from content providers for drawing traffic to their shows through the Boxee interface and social-networking functions, he said. Another option would be to let software developers charge for applications on Boxee's application store, and collect a portion of the revenue for itself. One more option would be to charge device makers to license Boxee's technology for inclusion on platforms such as game consoles or network-capable TVs. The company is drawing a lot of interest from hardware makers but believes it will license its technology to them for free, Ronen said.