In the Internet TV race, Boxee and Roku could get a boost from adult video


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YouTube on the big screen is great, but what about YouPorn?

Relative newcomers to the battle to bring the Internet into the living room could get an unexpected boost from the adult entertainment industry. The current competitors in the set-top-box space are in a slow push-and-tug, tit-for-tat exchange from which no clear winner has emerged.

Apple TV has the advantages of a brick-and-mortar distribution channel, the digital distribution of iTunes and the still-underutilized advertising might of Apple Inc.


Microsoft’s Xbox 360 and Sony’s Playstation 3 are using their excellent gaming machines as Trojan horses to install their entertainment software and digital video stores.

While leveraging the free and established paid-content stores on the Web, like Netflix, Boxee and Roku also tout instant access to something the other guys don’t offer -- pornography.

Flip a switch in the settings menu of Boxee (which can be password-protected to keep children and husbands with Tiger Woods-like tendencies in check), and a bevy of free adult content is at your fingertips. All of the YouTubes of the naughty Net are there.

While only half a dozen of the 300 or so applications on Boxee are pornographic, they’re among the most popular. Boxee expects to continue to add more adult content providers as they get wise to the service’s more than 800,000 users.

Boxee Chief Executive Avner Ronen met a representative for New Frontier, an adult entertainment company, at the Consumer Electronics Show. New Frontier was at the nearby AVN Adult Entertainment Expo, which runs at the same time as the tech conference.

‘We treat them like any other developer,’ Ronen said during the meeting at CES. ‘Especially these,’ he said of the pornography apps, ‘we test them extensively,’ he joked.


Ronen then took the opportunity to condemn Apple’s closed nature in accepting content to its iTunes platform. ‘I don’t think that’s a good policy,’ he said.

Today, Boxee announced a new back-end feature that could help adult and traditional entertainment producers alike.

Like iTunes, the company will introduce a standardized payment system that app makers can tap into, so users don’t need to input a credit card every time they want to purchase a service or video. The company will take a cut -- less than 30%.

‘Users want to see more content on Boxee. Content owners want to be paid for what they produce,’ Ronen wrote on the company blog. ‘We don’t believe these are conflicting interests.’

Unlike Boxee, which aims to thrive as a software company and to license to hardware makers, competitor Roku sells affordable boxes that connect to TVs. In order to make its limited content offerings more attractive, Roku launched the Channel Store in November.

While Roku’s open development platform allows adult entertainment providers to create hubs, such content is banned from the Channel Store. Determined users can still install porn in a few steps, and there are already some early adopters of the platform, including one called Erotic Vision.


‘We see that value,’ said Roku spokesman Brian Jaquet about offering pornography, ‘but we also want to protect our existing customers who don’t necessarily want to be exposed to that.’

Roku is looking to ‘find that good, fine line between making it accessible but at the same time protecting our install base,’ Jaquet said. Of course, he has a tip for lazy couch-surfers: ‘If you dig deep enough within Netflix, there is some pretty elicit content.’

‘At the end of the day, we want to sell boxes,’ Jaquet said.

Technology and pornography have had a long relationship. Tech historians often point to the adult industry’s embrace of VHS over Betamax. But porn titans also supported HD-DVD in favor of Blu-ray, and we know how that turned out.

How much influence the adult entertainment industry still has on the course of tech is unclear.

Pornography consumers still make up a significant market, but fewer are paying for it. Services such as Comcast cable, in which an adult video is just a few remote buttons away, are cleaning up. Based on chatter at some of the booths at AVN, adult-content makers are betting on app stores, like Boxee, to reverse that trend in the Internet realm.

-- Mark Milian