Boxee, Roku get infusion of cash

Boxee, Roku get more cash--but why? (Boxee)Over the top digital media browsers (or set top boxes) are on fire with two players receiving major investments in the last two  weeks.  Boxee, a software based digital media browser has just closed a round of financing  for 6 million and Roku, a broadband set top box solutions has just secured $8.4 million in new venture capital financing from Menlo Ventures.

Boxee’s software enables users to engage with content stored on their PC and can be used on any type of monitor connected to that PC, paving the way for another living room on demand solution.  Boxee strives to improve the consumer’s content experience by enabling a number of social features to allow sharing of content and suggestions in a very robust manner.  The bulk of the investment comes from General Catalyst Partners who will also have a board seat.  Boxee hopes that the  GC relationship will “strengthen [their] relationships with big media and cable companies.”  Boxee learned the hard way with an early battle with Hulu who blocked use of their portal on the Boxee platform.   But Boxee already has steep competition from other browser based solutions as well as hardware solutions.

Roku, a broadband powered hardware solution  (retails at $99) features the ability to stream Netflix, Amazon Video on Demand and now MLB.TV.  Its box provides HD quality content based on your connection and can connect to any monitor/television you’d like with wireless access to the Internet.   MLB.TV is the first live streaming content Roku has and a distinguishing factor among the many players out there who all seem to serve up Netflix , Amazon and other home entertainment fare.  In fact,  the landscape is now being populated by big consumer electronics companies like Sony, Microsoft, Samsung and  TiVo who have been adding broadband powered services (see Web connected consoles),  social media services like Flickr, Facebook, and Twitter as well as blue ray and gaming consoles.

So the question is why are General Catalyst and Menlo Ventures backing players in such a competitive space?

On Boxee’s part, GC wants to add more media content to Boxee, further developing and monetizing applications while leveraging Boxee’s unique social capabilities and open platform to play everywhere (Boxee works  on Linux, Mac and PC solutions).  And this space is GC’s sweet spot, with other investments like Brightcove and Maven.   This also happens to be an opportunity for Neil Sequeira, who will sit on the Boxee board, to play with some actionable technology.  Coming from an MSO, where technology advancements are so limited by the legacy infrastructure, an open source solution is very sexy.

Roku certainly gives Menlo ventures a “box” to play with and a seat at the “over the top” table.  But it’s really the Netflix play that Menlo is backing. Netflix is having a great year and is well positioned on multiple set box and browser based solutions.