MediaFile

Boxee CEO on the future of TV: Aereo, Cloud DVRs, Netflix and Apple TV, oh my.

Boxee CEO Avner Ronen recently sat down with me for a wide-ranging video interview on the state of television, and its future. His company just released a $99 device that uses the Amazon cloud to give its users an infinitely-sized DVR. If it takes off, the Boxee TV could fundamentally change the way cable customers consume content — and the way they pay for it. Users will also be able to watch their recordings from devices like the iPad. Can Boxee play nice with an industry it’s trying to disrupt? Ronen says yes. But between the Aereo lawsuit and the Apple TV rumor-mill, it’s a crowded, competitive landscape. So, can the company keep competing with the next generation of startups that have the television industry in their targets? Please watch, and find out:

British TV app Zeebox comes stateside

Are your Facebook friends or Twitter followers tired of your incessant posts about The Voice or Game of Thrones? Enter Zeebox, a new app available in the U.S. catered to the most avid TV watchers to keep the conversation going while a show is being aired.

Comcast, the largest U.S. cable company  and its entertainment unit, NBC Universal, are investing in a start-up called “Zeebox”, which makes an app meant to be a so-called “second screen” used by viewers while they are watching television.

The companies declined to provide financial details of Comcast’s stake. UK TV provider BSkyB invested a reported $15 million in the company in January. The free app has already gained some popularity in the UK, where it has 1.5 million users signed up.

Archery is the ‘new’ curling? I don’t think so, NBC

Alan Wurtzel, NBC’s president of research and development, said on the network’s Olympics conference call Thursday that archery is the new curling.

As a former “vice skip”* on my high school’s curling team, I have a message for Mr. Wurtzel: archery is no curling, sir.

Of course I am being a bit tongue-in-cheek here and I’m not that offended. Plus, Wurtzel has some compelling numbers to back up his claim.

50 shades of like

We are losing our faith in TV news as fast as those high-speed chases it’s so happy to show us. At the same time, we’re driving like maniacs on the social-media highway, letting it all hang out with the top down.

What do they have to do with each other? Both are advertiser-supported media. One prints money, the other not so much, at least not yet. And yet one is on the downswing, the other ascendant. What does this say about human nature and tapping into elusive and guilty pleasures?

In its annual poll, Gallup Politics found that only 21 percent of respondents expressed a “great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in TV news – less than half what it was when the poll was first conducted in 1993, but down only a point from last year.

Discovery Channel upstaged by murderers, stalkers

If the low ratings at Oprah Winfrey’s OWN weren’t evidence enough of viewer disinterest in programming that inspires, then perhaps the massive ratings growth at Investigation Discovery, a network whose shows are almost exclusively populated by murderers and stalkers, can provide convincing.

Investigation Discovery, the crime-themed cable channel that launched in January 2008, is not just getting better ratings than OWN, it is also doing better than the Discovery Channel itself. Over the last two weeks, ID averaged 275,000 total viewers, or 8,000 more than the 267,000 viewers that Discovery averaged, according to Nielsen. OWN, which launched in January 2011, only averaged 180,000 total daily viewers during the fourth quarter.

Given those ratings, who needs to spend millions on shows like “Planet Earth” when you can just air cheesy non-fiction crime programming like “I (Almost) Got Away With It” and “Who The (Bleep) Did I Marry. Those kind of shows have the fingerprints of ID president Henry Schleiff all over them. After all, Schleiff built Court TV into a cable network powerhouse on the back of similar programming.

Could a Netflix-cable alliance spur HBO to go rogue?

A potential alliance between online video streaming company Netflix Inc <NFLX.O> and cable companies could spur cable television’s biggest premium player HBO to consider its options beyond the set-top box and go directly to customers on the Web.

But not anytime soon.

Analysts say Time Warner Inc’s  HBO, which has more than 28 million customers through its cable, satellite and phone partners, would be in no hurry to risk hurting their very profitable business based on a perceived threat from Netflix or any other newcomers.
“Why fix it if it’s not broke,” said Standard & Poor’s analyst Tuna Amobi. “You’re virtually jeopardizing billions of dollars, it seems remote from our perspective.”
People familiar with HBO executives’ thinking say this has been looked at and they ‘have done the math’ and are even more sceptical it makes sense.
Yet the question, which is often asked, comes up again with the news that Netflix Chief Executive Reed Hastings has opened early talks with cable operators for a partnership.

Reed Hastings, Netflix Chief Executive

If these Netflix talks come to fruition the alliance could start out as a billing partnership — with Netflix appearing as a line on cable customers’ bills. But the talks have also encompassed the possibility of Netflix shows one day being offered on-demand say people familiar with the talks.
On a financial basis the two could not be more different. Netflix has warned investors it will likely turn in a loss this year, while HBO will likely grow its $1.5 billion in operating profits. In creative terms, Netflix is dipping its toe into producing original shows, while HBO is a record-breaking Emmy-award winner nearly every year.
The concern for cable investors is that even though Netflix is still seen as a poor man’s HBO, with its package of older TV series and movies with few original shows, it will compete on a level playing field in the battle for customers’ time on a set-top box.
Hastings frequently says Netflix will look more like HBO in the future. Last month, his company launched ‘Lilyhammer‘, the first of five new original series on its service and likely will look at more as it tries to give its customers reasons to stay on even as programming costs rise.
But in a potential partnership with cable, Hastings focus will primarily be on pay television’s 100 million home distribution.
“We believe distribution agreements with the cable providers could materially increase Netflix’s subscriber base in a relatively short period of time,” said Barclays Capital analyst Anthony DiClemente. “The question for Netflix, however, is how to reach greater scale without sacrificing all the economics to its cable partners.” Such a partnership could also lower acquisition costs and improve profitability he added.
Even after guessing a fairly high overlap between Netflix’s 23 million subscribers and those homes. There would still be plenty of room for growth if Netflix is offered as some sort of discounted add-on deal to consumers.
“Netflix is at a point where they are trying to get as much distribution as possible. However, I think Netflix needs the cable distributors more than vice versa,” Morningstar analyst Michael Corty said.
Such a deal would not be a million miles away from something Comcast Corp <CMCSA.O> has already been announced the launch of Streampix, a Web-based extension of its on-demand programming with a wide range of older TV shows and movies.
Perhaps the earliest example of how this could work is seen with the lastest version of Apple Inc’s <AAPL.O> Apple TV set-top box, which now allows users to sign up and get billed directly for Netflix through the box.

No NBA games on TV? American Chopper still rolling

The NBA season should have begun last night. The big match-up was supposed to be between the Dallas Mavericks and the Chicago Bulls. But of course that never materialized.

It’s unfortunately nearing the point where the league will be hard-pressed to play a full season, even if an agreement is reached soon. Only so many games can be squeezed into January, February and March.

So what is a fan to do? Look around for other entertainment, probably, whether that’s NCAA basketball or ice hockey. Or Storm Chasers. Or American Chopper.

Disney TV heads north to reach millennials

Millennials, the massive generation of teens and young adults aged 15 to 34, are luring Disney television north of the border.

The California-based global media and theme-park giant announced a new, 24-hour network in Canada called ABC Spark targeting that age group - like the successful ABC Family cable channel does in the United States.

A partnership between Disney/ABC Television Group and Canadian media company Corus Entertainment, the new network will broadcast ABC Family shows such as “Switched at Birth,” “The Lying Game,” and “The Secret Life of the American Teenager.” Corus also will provide Canadian original programming,  as regulations require 15 percent Canadian content. The network’s launch is set for spring 2012.Disney knows a growth opportunity when it sees one. There are more than 1.7 billion millennials on the planet, with 85 million of them in the United States and 10 million in Canada, according to a statement from the Mouse House, representing “the largest demographic bubble in both U.S. and Canadian history.” No financial terms of the deal were disclosed.

File under acceptance: CBS knows it must pay up for the NFL

This time of year, it seems everybody loves football. The players, the fans, and, of course, the TV executives. And what’s not to like about football if you’re running a TV network, provided you have a deal with the NFL? Check it out, a total of 107 million viewers tuned into games between Thursday and Sunday on CBS, ESPN, Fox and NBC.

So it should come as no surprise that CBS Chief Executive Les Moonves, while speaking at today’s Bank of America conference, said he intended to renew the contract with the NFL when it expires in three years. “No surprise there,” he said. Indeed. The bigger question is what will CBS end up paying? Just last week, ESPN signed a new contract with the NFL at $1.9 billion a year. Repeat: $1.9 billion. That is about 73 percent more than ESPN previously paid the NFL.

As The New York Post’s Claire Atkinson points out in a story today, the ESPN deal has come under some heavy fire, particularly from the pay-TV industry, worried that it’s going to jack up rates.

Should media owners rethink Hulu sale plan?

BTIG’s Rich Greenfield is an analyst who seems to have never met a contrarian debate on the media business he didn’t like. This morning, he turned his attention towards online video site Hulu, arguing in a research note that its owners should think twice about selling the business (subscription needed). First round bid for Hulu, which is owned by News Corp., Disney, Comcast, and Providence Equity Partners, are due Wednesday and are expected to reach as high as $2 billion.

In his note, Greenfield, known for his embrace of hyperbole, says selling Hulu is “a mistake of epic proportions.” He says Hulu is the perfect weapon for combating cable TV’s excessive ad load, supercharging on-demand TV, and for integrating social media’s impact on how consumers watch TV.

Greenfield asks why Hulu owners would sell now, at a time when Hulu is growing viewers, advertising and subscription revenues. As he sees it, on-demand online video is clearly the future and big media would be better served having a say in how the future of video distribution over the long-term is shaped rather than handing Hulu over to Google, Amazon, Yahoo or some of the companies that are supposed to be interested.