On the heels of launching its own set-top box, Boxee said Wednesday it plans to introduce a payment system for its Web-to-TV software. Content providers will able to begin charging for programming through Boxee starting this summer, at any price and on an a-la-carte or subscription basis.
The company will take a "small fee" for transactions -- less than the 30% that Apple and other companies charge developers for application sales via iTunes and other digital storefronts. Boxee founder and CEO Avner Ronen said the paid option for media partners signals the beginning of its business model.
"The iTunes store has already shown us that people are willing to pay for content when it's affordable and easy to access," he wrote in a blog post. "Our goal is to equip the content providers that we've spoken with over the past year, both big and small, with a way to monetize their content above and beyond the advertising-only model."
Ronen argues more broadly that a "generational shift" is pushing younger viewers away from traditional TV to the Internet as the main source of entertainment. That's the emerging audience Boxee is going after.
Adding a pay option could also help Boxee attract a wider range of content partners to help expand its media offerings. The service streams content from sites including Netflix, MLB.TV and Comedy Central, Last.fm and Pandora. It also adds a layer of social networking services on top of content.
"Content partners will have the flexibility to decide what they make available, whether it's premium content, content from their existing library, or extras that will never make it 'on air,' stated Ronen.
Earlier this month, Boxee formally unveiled its dedicated set-top box at CES and opened up the latest version of its software to a public beta test. It announced the new payment platform on the same day The New York Times confirmed it will begin charging for online access early next year.
Hulu, which has largely blocked its content from appearing on Boxee, has not yet adopted a pay model. But Comcast's recent acquisition of NBC Universal, a co-owner of the Web video hub with News Corp. and Disney, raised anew the question of whether Hulu will erect a pay wall. Boxee's latest move won't do anything to dampen the debate.