Boxee has gained an enthusiastic following among online TV aficionados who'd rather watch programs on a television set than a computer, yet its alpha-version software is still missing a few important components. Today, it's filling one of those holes by adding Clicker's well-designed program guide, making it easier for users to search through the haystack of online videos for authorized versions of the shows they want to watch.
It's a good move for both companies -- Clicker, which made its formal launch last month, gets more exposure and a route to the TV screen, and Boxee increases its usability. The best thing about Clicker, IMHO, is that it doesn't index clips or video fragments. That makes it especially useful for folks who are more interested in finding "CSI: New York" episodes than YouTube clips of interviews with the show's stars. But integrating Clicker into Boxee also makes more obvious what Hulu and other authorized sources are withholding from the latter's software -- about half of the material that Clicker can find online isn't available on Boxee. That still amounts to a *lot* of programming, however, as Clicker notes on its blog: "over 180,000 episodes from over 3,000 TV and Web shows, as well as 5,000 movies," with more to come.
Avner Ronen, Boxee's chief executive, estimates that the studios and networks have put less than 50% of their broadcast TV shows and less than 10% of their cable programming online. That's not a technical hurdle, it's an issue of business models. "It's up to us to show media companies that's it's not `analog dollars to digital cents,'" Ronen said, paraphrasing NBC Universal CEO Jeff Zucker. Ronen said his platform will support more than just free transmissions -- a "major push" next year will be "introducing a billing platform into Boxee." And he sees the TV Everywhere initiative, which Comcast and Time Warner are developing to make cable programming available online to cable subscribers, as a potentially good thing. "We would love to enable [users] to access that content," Ronen said. He also noted that there are numerous ways for studios to make the online versions of the show more valuable to consumers (and, consequently, increase their willingness to pay), including reducing the number of commercials, improving the resolution and making them available sooner.
For its part, Clicker is planning to generate revenue by matching programmers and advertisers to users through their searches -- a model familiar to anyone who uses Google. CEO Jim Lanzone said the company hasn't pursued that side of its business yet, though, because it's been focused on building its application and attracting an audience. To the latter end, it's trying to bring Clicker to the TV screen through more devices. Lanzone said the Boxee deal is the first of several that are in the works, including at least one that would integrate Clicker directly into Internet-capable TVs.
Updated 10:40 a.m.: Boxee is set to unveil the next (Beta) version of its software Dec. 7 at 4 p.m. The LAT's Technology blog will offer its first impressions of the Beta and Boxee's forthcoming set-top box then. But be forewarned -- the new version of the software won't be widely available until early January.
-- Jon Healey