Akimbo Punts Set-Top Boxes for New Direction

I’m an Akimbo owner as well as a tech journalist. Being a tech journalist makes me a likely candidate for having devices like the RCA Akimbo Player set-top box in my personal tech stable at home and paying whatever fees I need to pay so I can enjoy the content it provides. Imagine my annoyance (and the annoyance of other Akimbo owners) when I got an email from Akimbo stating they were discontinuing the set-top box offering in favor of other delivery methods such as the PC. After some grumpy comments in the Akimbo forums, I decided to take my questions regarding this business decision to Akimbo president and CEO Tom Frank.

Digital Trends (DT): Tell me what prompted the decision to drop set-top boxes and have customers switch to the Akimbo PC Service. Why is Akimbo taking the step of closing off video delivery to the boxes?

Tom Frank (TF): It was never our long term plan to be in the hardware space. Our desire going forward is to be the best content service provider we can for every other hardware device and/or platform.

DT: By dropping the set-top boxes from the Akimbo product offering, are you admitting the set-top box model doesn’t work as your company originally had hoped for?

TF: It was always part of our plan at some point to cease- and-desist with the box. It is not a change in strategy.

DT: Talk a little bit about the direction Akimbo is heading, now that you are exiting out of the hardware business.

TF: We are heading in the same direction we were, but just getting a little better and smarter about it. I am a firm believer that consumers want content and don’t shop for platforms. Our primary objective is to acquire the best content and organize it so customers can easily enjoy it. This is the next evolution of our strategy.

DT: Getting back to the set-top-boxes for a moment, how many players do you expect to get back and what will the standard refund price be for each?

TF: I don’t know how many we will get back, but we want to make everybody as happy as possible. I want everybody to feel like they were treated fairly. We are issuing full refunds as well as credits for services on other platforms.

DT: Do you worry you’ll alienate set-top box customers through this move?

TF: It is impossible not to worry when you are taking a service away from someone. That’s a very real risk. My hope is that because the service is becoming more widely available and we treat people well in this transition process the alienation factor will be really low.

Bye-Bye RCA Akimbo Player

DT: There’s been some grumbling among existing Akimbo set-top box owners [of which I am one] about wanting to enjoy their video-on-demand content on their home entertainment systems and not their computers. What would you say to them?

TF: I respect their desire to access their Akimbo content in the living room. One of the reasons we are keeping the service running for the next few months is to pursue additional options which will allow them to be able to enjoy their content the way they want to. Beyond AT&T HomeZone they will have the opportunity to burn programming to DVD with the Sonic deal. They currently can use NetGear or D-Link networked boxes if they choose to port to their TVs.

DT: Why not keep the set-top box as an active platform distribution model? 

TF: Running the service indefinitely puts us in potential conflict with some distribution partners. Our plan was never in the long term to be in the hardware business. It’s not about having the best box – it’s about having the best content service.

DT: What is the return procedure for those who have a RCA Akimbo Player?

TF: There’s a link in the customer care letters which went out today. They can also call customer care at (650) 627-8678 Monday-Friday 8am to 6pm PST or email customercare@akimbo.com.

DT: How, if at all, will the dropping of the Akimbo set top box impact the video content delivered? Will subscribers lose any channels if they switch over? 

TF: Our content rights vary by platform but going forward we are committed to acquiring more content and specifically the content our customers have been asking us for on all platforms.

DT: What do you see as the future of video-on-demand programming? How is Akimbo moving to embrace this?

TF: I see the future as richer content offerings and more choice for customers. We are moving to embrace [this] by trying to be the best content service. We have the best content library and now will kick it up a notch in terms of augmenting our existing content offerings.

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