Boxee new direction

Wal-Mart to Sell Boxee TVs Challenging Apple and Roku:

Starting tomorrow, the world’s biggest retailer will exclusively sell the new $98 product, called Boxee TV, in more than 3,000 U.S. locations during the holiday season. Wal-Mart will set up displays and send out marketing materials for the device, a small black box with a remote control that can access free TV broadcast channels as well as Internet content.

“It’s going to be a big launch for us,” Avner Ronen, Boxee’s chief executive officer, said in an interview. “There’s a big difference between having your product being carried by retailers, where it sits on the shelf, and getting real marketing behind it.”

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Last year, Boxee sold 120,000 of its devices, which are manufactured by D-Link Corp. (2332), while Roku sold 1.4 million, according to Jordan Selburn, an analyst for research firm IHS ISuppli. Apple said last week that the company sold 5.3 million Apple TV devices in the past 12 months. Roku’s devices range in price from $50 to $100, while Apple TV sells for $99.

Consumers haven’t flocked to these devices because they don’t have many of the shows offered on cable networks, Selburn said. That’s not expected to change any time soon as broadcasters and pay-TV operators look to protect their lucrative businesses, he said.

Boxee TV is a compelling option because it pulls in broadcast channels and Internet video into a single system, Ronen said. The device, which has a built-in antenna for accessing over-the-air TV signals, shows TV channels when it boots up, unlike services that typically ask users to navigate menus at the outset to decide what to watch.

“You turn on the TV, and it’s a familiar ground,” Ronen said. “We don’t believe the future of the TV is going to be a future filled with apps. When you turn on the TV, you don’t want 60 icons. You just want to watch something.”

This is a huge change in product direction for Boxee. I’m impressed. The old product vision was not hitting the target. It was nowhere close to product/market fit. The company didn’t choose to be buried with that vision. Instead it went to a really new and creative place and came back with something useful and well differentiated. Personally I really want the new Boxee, even though my old Boxee ended up just gathering dust.