NBC tells Congress that Boxee was illegally taking Hulu content; Boxee disagrees
U.S. Rep. Rick Boucher threw a curveball at NBC Universal's chief executive Thursday in hearings regarding the proposed merger of NBCU and Comcast. The Virginia Democrat asked Jeff Zucker why Hulu blocked the Boxee app from displaying its content last year.
Boxee is an application that lets users connect a computer (or soon, a standalone box) to their television to stream TV shows, movies and online video.
Boucher resurfaced an issue that enraged early adopters of the media center a year ago when Hulu announced that it would block the Boxee software from picking up its video content. In the recent versions of Boxee, access to shows on Hulu has been restored in addition to an option to watch them through networks' proprietary video players.
"What about Boxee?" Boucher asked Zucker. "Did Hulu block the Boxee users from access to the Hulu programs?"
Zucker called it "a decision by the Hulu management" before saying, "What Boxee was doing was illegally taking the content that was on Hulu without any business deal."
Answering a follow-up question, Zucker said, "We have always said that we’re open to negotiations."
Boxee Chief Executive Avner Ronen wrote in an e-mail that Hulu had turned down his company's requests for negotiations in the past. "But I hope that based on Mr. Zucker's comments, they will now engage," he wrote.
In a response on Boxee's company blog, Ronen calls the accusation of illegal use untrue.
Boxee uses a web browser to access Hulu’s content – just like Firefox or Internet Explorer. Boxee users click on a link to Hulu’s website and the video within that page plays. We don’t “take” the video. We don’t copy it. We don’t put ads on top of it. The video and the ads play like they do on other browsers or on Hulu Desktop. And it certainly is legal to do so.
Boxee's blog also points out a blog post by Hulu Chief Executive Jason Kilar from Feb. 18, 2009, addressing the Boxee block. Kilar wrote, "Our content providers requested that we turn off access to our content via the Boxee product, and we are respecting their wishes."
Ronen equates "content providers" with NBC in the blog post. Kilar didn't immediately respond to e-mails seeking comment.
-- Mark Milian
Image: NBC Universal Chief Executive Jeff Zucker. Captured from CSPAN video