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NBC's Jeff Zucker Caught in a Boxee-Hulu Lie

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In front of Congress, the network chief exhibits more duplicity and ineptitude.

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So far in 2010, we've learned that orchestrating one of the most high-profile, colossal failures in television history won't end with a job loss for the conductor.

In addition to completely botching the 10 p.m. weeknight time slot, NBC Universal (GE) CEO Jeff Zucker has made one poor decision after another and run the network into the ground -- a position with which Zucker is apparently comfortable. (See Ten Ways NBC Can Save Itself and Conan O'Brien Is Making the Wrong Argument to NBC).

But the fact that NBC is now trailing ABC (DIS), CBS (CBS), and Fox (NWS) -- and occasionally FX -- is apparently of little concern for Comcast (CMCSA). Its CEO, Brian Roberts, allowed the media whipping boy to sit beside him in a congressional hearing on Thursday as they extolled the benefits of a Comcast merger with NBC. (See Why Comcast, NBC's "Commitments" Aren't Enough).

Who better to persuade approval of the deal than a man who's been consistently wrong for the past six years?

But Zucker was able to outdo himself when the subject of Boxee came up during the proceedings. Democrat Rick Boucher of Virginia asked Zucker about the media-center developer and its relationship to the video streaming site Hulu -- which NBC co-owns with Fox, ABC, and Providence Equity Partners. The conversation, as well as Zucker's stammering, went as followed:

Boucher: "What about Boxee? Mr. Zucker, you probably are in a better position to answer that. Did Hulu block the Boxee users from access to the Hulu programs?"

Zucker: "This was a decision made by the Hulu management to, uh, what Boxee was doing was illegally taking the content that was on Hulu without any business deal. And, you know, all, all the, we have several distributors, actually many distributors of the Hulu content that we have legal distribution deals with so we don't preclude distribution deals. What we preclude are those who illegally take that content."

Boucher: "Well, would you have negotiations with Boxee upon request?"

Zucker: "We have always said that we're open to negotiations."


It didn't even take the company's prompt response for Boxee users to realize Zucker was lying.

There's nothing illegal about Boxee's integration of Hulu into its media-player software. Boxee loads Hulu into a Web browser and allows users to view the content full screen, plain and simple. It's the equivalent of connecting a laptop to a TV.

Boxee CEO Avner Ronen put it best in his blog post: "We don't 'take' the video. We don't copy it. We don't put ads on top of it. The video and the ads play like they do on other browsers or on Hulu Desktop. And it certainly is legal to do so."

Further, the decision to continually block Boxee's access to content was not made by Hulu's management, as Zucker intimates, but rather NBC itself. Ronen links to Hulu CEO Jason Kilar's blog post regarding the matter: "Our content providers requested that we turn off access to our content via the Boxee product, and we are respecting their wishes."

A June 2009 interview with PaidContent.org's Staci Kramer reveals the real -- and downright obvious -- reason Zucker wants to keep Boxee from accessing Hulu: money. "We're comfortable with you experiencing our media in almost any way you want to as long as we get paid for it," Zucker said.

Yes, there's a lot of talk about Hulu moving toward paid subscriptions to boost revenue. (See How News Corp Could Kill Hulu). But currently, Hulu is a free ad-supported site. Free to view, free to browse, and free to access. Zucker's statements in the congressional hearing are not just misleading. They're outright lies.

So, care to revise that statement now, Jeff?
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