In my quest to replace cable television with Internet video, Clicker's TV Guide approach to what's on the Web seemed like a great idea, until I realized how awful the Web site looks from 10 feet away on an actual TV.
But Clicker does want to be liberated from the desktop, and has partnered with set-top box software startup Boxee as its first step. Boxee, whose software for Windows, OS X and Linux is best-suited for home theater PCs and Apple TV, will use Clicker as a way to navigate all its disparate content, from free sites like YouTube to paid services such as MLB.tv. Clicker chief executive Jim Lanzone calls his service the Google to Boxee's Firefox.
I'm not a Boxee user, so the news doesn't thrill me, but Lanzone said in an interview that support for video game consoles, Windows Media Center and a TV-optimized Web site (like YouTube XL) should be ready in the early part of next year. Android and iPhone apps are on the way, too. If Clicker makes good on those promises, the service could become the dominant way people find and watch Web video.
That's the easy part.
When I wrote about Clicker a few weeks ago, I came down hard on the startup by saying it hates your TV. That was partly because the Web site was still bound to the desktop, but the bigger problem is outside of Clicker's control: Some content providers don't want you to watch their Web programming on an actual television. That's why Boxee doesn't play videos from Hulu, why Hulu is blocked on the Playstation 3 and partly why Clicker's Boxee app lists less than half the content you'll find on Clicker.com.
I don't blame either startup for the missing content. To expand on Lanzone's Google-Firefox analogy with a hypothetical situation, not being able to watch Hulu on Boxee would be like Microsoft blocking Mozilla's Web site from Internet Explorer because Firefox is a threat. And Clicker's not getting involved in the debate--that'd be like Google trying to convince Microsoft not to block particular Web sites. Clicker could chime in, but ultimately it's the content providers that ought to loosen up.
Still, there's no shortage of things to watch through Clicker with Boxee, such as South Park and The Office, which comes through NBC's Web site instead of Hulu. It's not everything--I don't see ESPN leaving cable any time soon-- but it's good enough to entertain. So Clicker doesn't hate your TV after all, but old media may soon find a new enemy in Clicker.