“This is like nerd prom,” said Howcast’s Katy Zack, coming through the door to the packed Irving Plaza ballroom for last night’s Boxee Box launch event.
“More like a nerd rock show,” chimed in NY Tech Meetup’s Nate Westheimer, heading to the bar.
Digerati like Union Square’s Fred Wilson and Foursquare’s Naveen Selvadurai mingled in the VIP section above the crowd, while attractive 20 somethings cadged free drink tickets from Boxee staff. “A lotta guys in this room are going to be 10X exits someday,” a startup founder said appreciatively.
The event was a launch party for the Boxee Box, one of the most stylish entrants in the fast-growing world of web TV.
“We expect the networks will try and block us, just as they did to Google,” Boxee CEO Avner Ronen told The Observer. “But we’re in this for the long run. This is a seven-year war.”
A nervous cable executive confided that it would be a bloody battle. “The big networks and the basic cable folks, they don’t want a web TV world where consumers pick and choose shows a la carte, because that means when it comes to programming, you can’t have any filler.”
Ronen showed off the Boxee box to the crowd, which greeted him with a cheer. The software’s social features, watch-later and integration with music and video were all impressive. The remote, easily the hardest part of designing web TV (see Sony/Google TV), seemed intuitive and sleek.
For now, Boxee’s major content partners are Netflix, Vudu, Pandora, MLB and NHL. It also has some cool smaller players, like VBS.TV. Netflix won’t be available till the end of the year however, and talks with Hulu are still ongoing. Without those two, Boxee is a much tougher sell to the average consumer.
“We’re reaching a tipping point now,” Ronen said, “The smart players are going to ride the web TV wave early.”
It was a confident statement from a CEO who was enjoying his raucous product launch. Whether Boxee will be able to capitalize on that change, with big players like Google and Apple pushing strongly into web TV, remains to be seen. The networks, which in particular fear Google’s reach as a player in the advertising market, may prefer to back smaller players like Boxee.
Either way, Ronen isn’t worried. “There is enough room in this market for all of us to grow substantially.” The real issue is the barriers to content being put up by the entrenched players. “A giant like Google is just helping us to kick down that door.”