Thursday, February 04, 2010

NBC Universal: We make it up as we go along

In Congressional hearings today, NBC Universal and Comcast answered questions about how their merger would affect the supply of programming to competitive outlets, among other topics. During questions, NBC Universal Chairman Jeff Zucker was asked about Hulu's decision to block the ability of Boxee to display its programs. It's important to remember that at the time of the dustup between the two companies, Hulu was owned by NBC Universal, News Corporation and Providence Equity Partners (Disney subsequently invested in Hulu.) Therefore, any decisions that were made weren't Zucker's alone. However, responding to direct questioning, he said that the decision to block Boxee was made by Hulu's management because Boxee was "... illegally taking the content that was on Hulu without any business deal."

The problem with this statement is that it's wrong on both counts. First, Hulu's management has admitted that it was pressured by its joint venture owners, including NBC Universal, to block Boxee. Second, at the time that Boxee was displaying Hulu's content, it was using the same facilities that Hulu made freely available to anyone. Boxee wasn't stripping out any advertising in Hulu's streams or interfering with the streams in any way. Hulu specifically targeted Boxee in denying it service. Then, when Boxee attempted an end-around by using Hulu's freely-available RSS feeds, Hulu blocked them as well.

I wrote earlier about Zucker's cowardice in how he blamed Jeff Gaspin for the disastrous late night "musical chairs" plan at NBC. Now, Zucker is hiding behind Hulu's management (that acted at Zucker's direction) and is accusing Boxee of illegal behavior that never occurred. Boxee has responded to Zucker's charges and has linked to a video of the Congressional Q & A. I've given up on trying to comprehend how this man has managed to keep his job. All I can say is that Jack Welch is spinning in his grave, and he isn't even dead yet.
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