Since the introduction of the DVR more than a decade ago, consumers have learned they don't have to conform their lives to broadcast programmers' schedules in order to watch their favorite TV shows.
Along come online sources like HuluPlus, or the network's own websites promise even more convenience: Get any episode of any show with no need to remember to record it. But adoption is hampered by the awkward viewing experience of the cramped screens of laptops, tablets, and smartphones.
Welcome to TV viewing in the Age of the Customer. Consumers want their favorite shows when they want them, on their preferred device, with little or no effort on their part.
Linear TV, DVRs and today's online viewing experience all fail on at least one of these dimensions. Viewers increasingly cobble together a mix of sources and devices to create this level of convenience, and each of these players vies to capture more of viewers' time by improving its offering.
In my new report, "How Online Video Will Challenge DVRs' Role," I delve into how these two sources of video entertainment vie to meet consumers' increasing expectations. DVRs have the advantage of incumbency, while online viewing offers greater flexibility.
This week Wal-Mart announced that it would put significant weight behind the new Boxee TV box, a $99 set-top box that competes with the market-leading Apple TV and the runner-up Roku boxes. Wal-Mart also sells the Apple TV and Roku devices, so it might not seem like a big deal, but it is. Because Wal-Mart is going to promote Boxee TV with in-store displays and outbound marketing support. Why? Because in addition to the regular apps like Hulu, Netflix, and the rest, Boxee gives Wal-Mart customers three things they can't get from Apple or Roku:
Regular TV shows from local broadcasters. Boxee's new box has a digital tuner that lets you tune to digital signals from ABC, CBS, CW, Fox, NBC, PBS, and Univision through either an over-the-air antenna or via ClearQAM.
Unlimited DVR. Not only will Boxee let you watch these channels, it is offering unlimited cloud DVR for $9.99 a month (in only the top eight markets for now) to record any shows from those networks, without managing a hard drive or paying extra if you want to store hours and hours of video.
Multidevice viewing. This is the real coup for Boxee. Because its DVR is in the cloud, it can send your recorded content to any device you log in to -- whether it's in your home or in your hands while traveling for business.