Electric Shadow

Culture Of Demand: Samsung Buys Boxee on the Path to War

Venturebeat had the lead on Boxee's having been acquired a couple of weeks ago. Today, Israeli paper Haaretz broke the news that Samsung snagged Boxee: the entire staff and all of their "strategic assets" (aka IP).

At one point, Boxee was considered one of Israel's most promising companies in the field of consumer technology. Its product, the Boxee Box, enabled video streaming and was a market leader several years ago, winning several prizes.
Samsung will keep Boxee's 40 employees on the payroll. Half of those workers are in Israel.

NYT's Brian X. Chen makes mention of this:

[...]For a few years now, Boxee has been a hot start-up at the Consumer Electronics Show, one of the biggest technology trade shows in the world. Boxee originally offered computer software for watching any format of digital video. It later shifted to selling a set-top box that runs its software.

The most excited I was for Boxee at CES was the year their software was running on a ViewSonic HDTV as the TV's primary OS. An RF-based remote and their stellar interface hit a few sweet spots for me. That was 2011.

 ZDNet's Andrew Nusca:

Its challenge? The companies Boxee primarily competes against are all larger in size and scope: Apple (TV), Google (TV), TiVo, Dish Network and virtually every television manufacturer can out-muscle Boxee when it comes to market presence. (Only Roku, which is also independent, is comparable, though Dish Network has invested in it.) As more companies get into the "smart TV" game and integrate more functionality into a single device, stopgap products like Boxee's stand to be squeezed out.

The consolidation of players, to use a wartime analogy, is like amassing allies in the leadup to conflict. Boxee's IP and talent were its greatest value on its own. I disagree with Nusca's further point:

But the real question here is why Samsung believes it needs Boxee, either for talent or technology. That very large company has made great efforts in its Smart TV brand, but industry efforts in this space have been met with some disdain by consumers. (My CNET colleague David Katzmeier called the features "whizbang doodads, newfangled thingamabobs, miscellaneous frippery." Enough said.)
Boxee's greatest success has been in developing simple, user-friendly UI and UX for devices, down to the remote, which their original "two-side" RF-based solution nearly perfected. If anything, they bring a simplicity to the table that Samsung has been most sorely lacking.

The no-brainer for Samsung is to use Boxee to massively overhaul the interface on all their existing TVs and Blu-ray players. If Samsung is playing smart, they wouldn't scrap the idea of having their own "puck"-style set top box. If their goal is to beat Apple in the living room, the best way to compete (let alone win) is to be the "open" alternative to Apple's ultra-closed "app channel" storefront.

They have greater leverage than Roku with mainstream content providers, from movie studios to "new studios" like Amazon. Apple's biggest advantage is their enormous installed base of users who are habitually conditioned to buy content. If Samsung is willing to be the pass-through for Amazon and others, they could have just made the most important step in building a viable hardware platform.

In case it wasn't already apparent, this is another signal that the Content Arms Race is really and truly on in a big way. Expect more about this specifically on the next Screen Time.