Interview with Boxee Creator – Avner Ronen


Interest in Boxee has been growing steadily, especially since it became available on the Apple TV (we contacted Apple PR to ask them their views on installing Boxee on the Apple TV but they replied saying Apple declines to comment on this).  With a quarter of a million users, even before the Windows version has been released, Boxee are capturing people’s imagination and with the possibility of new hardware boxes on the horizon with a “Powered By Boxee” logo on them, its time to sit up and take notice.  Read on for Automated Home’s interview with Boxee Founder, Avner Ronen…

1. Hi Avner, thanks for talking to us.  Can we ask you what your background is and how Boxee came about.

A few friends and I came up with the idea for boxee in 2004 when they began using Xbox Media Center, open source software for the original Xbox that allowed people to play digital media on their TVs.  We became members of XBMC’s open source community and in 2007 imagined a way to take the platform even further. Over the past year and a half my team have worked to extend the base code for XBMC with online sources like hulu and Netflix as well as social networking in boxee.

Before starting boxee I was the Head of Corporate Development and M&A for Comverse, Inc. a leading provider of software and service to Telecom service providers.  I joined Comverse in 2002 when they acquired Odigo, a company I co-founded in 1998. Odigo was one of the early Instant Messaging services on the web serving over 8M users worldwide.  Prior to Odigo i served for 4.5 years in the Israeli Defense Force in the special computer unit, MAMRAM.

2. Boxee is an open source, social media center. Can you describe what the platform is to someone that’s never used it?

Sure – boxee is free downloadable software that allows you to get all of your entertainment in one place – whether it’s movies, TV shows, music, or photos that are on your hard drive or on the Internet.  So in the same application you can browse photos from your last trip, play mp3s, or watch the latest episode of the Office for free on  boxee organizes all your entertainment visually, and lets you navigate it all via remote.

3. You are based in new York – how many employees does Boxee have currently and how are you funded?

We have 12 employees, 2 in NYC and 10 in Israel.  We were originally funded by friends and family but recently raised a Series A round of 4 million with Union Square Ventures (Fred Wilson) and Spark Capital (Bijan Sabet)

4. Do you know how many users Boxee has right now?  You’ve stated you want to reach a million accounts.  If you do, can you monetise Boxee – is there a business model?

Currently we have about 250,000 users across Windows, Linux, Mac, and AppleTV.  2009 is really all about perfecting the platform and growing user base to that magic million mark (and beyond).  At the moment we see three revenue streams from boxee…

A – revenue share from content providers (if you watch ads or purchase content on boxee, we would get a share of that revenue)
B – premium features or content on boxee (just like you subscribe to premium channels on cable)
C – licensing fees for embedding boxee into devices



5. Boxee is running on Macs, Apple TV and Linux already and we’re running your closed Windows Alpha at Automated Home currently too.  Can you tell us when the Windows version will be released to the public and will Boxee always be free?

First, I’ll say that boxee’s basic platform will always be free (what you see today). While I can’t give you a specific date for the Windows public launch, we’re working hard to make sure that it’s not long after our announced March 5th update for all three platforms.

6. Our reader are looking for the “holy grail” hardware box – a small, silent, Apple TV like device, but open and with the ability to play 1080P.  Does Boxee have any plans to create its own such device and if so can you give us any details?

We’re software guys, and we personally have no interest in making a box ourselves.  We know that our users want that though, and coming out of CES we had a lot of interest from hardware manufacturers to build a boxee box. We’re talking with nearly every major device manufacturer to get it done – who knows, by early 2010, you could see a number of devices that say “Powered by boxee” or with “boxee inside!” but for the moment we’re focused on perfecting the platform.

7. In the “global village” digital rights management is still slowing progress.  How are you coping with DRM and do you ever envisage a time when internet TV will be available internationally without physical border restrictions?

DRM will continue to be a problem until content makers across all industries realize the game has changed – consumers want media that moves with them.  No one wants to pay for a box, and then pay again for media that can only play on that box.  It doesn’t fit with the way people consume media these days.  We’ve seen they’re willing to download software when it’s good, and that they’re willing to pay for content if it’s in a format that’s easy for them to access.

We definitely see geo-locking becoming a thing of the past; currently content producers are losing easy revenue to consumers who are forced to download shows illegally because they have no other way to obtain them in a timely manner.  As to when though, it will be far behind our desires.

8. Boxee is based on  What percentage of your code is custom now would you say and what is the development environment?

boxee has both server and client software. the client software is based on xbmc and we have been working to extend it since early 2007. most of the code is shared back with team-xbmc and vice-versa. so it is hard to say what percentage is boxee. we don’t count lines of code.. 🙂

the server is all boxee code. we develop in C, C++, Python, PHP and JavaScript..

9. Boxee has some unique social networking features allowing friends to recommend content to each other for  example.  How important is the social aspect to the media players success?




boxee was built from the ground up with the social features in mind – it’s how we use the web today from recommendations, to sharing, to voyeurism – we want to know what other people (friends & strangers) are doing so that we can check things out and join in.  The social element keeps boxee more interesting than just your own personal content and gives boxee a viral element.  Both are keys to our success.


10. Of all the media players around, Boxee seems to be the one most focused on pulling together media from the many disparate sources on the Net, such as BBC iPlayer, Joost, Hulu, Last.FM and Flickr.  Its becoming clear that the future of TV is IP.  Where do you see it all in 10 years time?

we don’t think cable/sat and broadcasting as we know it is going to disappear over the next 10 years. it will be complemented by experiences such as boxee, and we believe the majority of media consumption is going to be IP based. the living room experience will become an always-on experience and will be an integral part of a connected lifestyle.

Boxee   :   Apple TV

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1 Comment on "Interview with Boxee Creator – Avner Ronen"

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