Akimbo Snuffs Out RCA Player

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Akimbo Systems has stopped selling the RCA-branded Internet video player it developed in conjunction with Thomson, just eight months after introducing the product.

Akimbo CEO Tom Frank, a former RealNetworks executive who joined the company in March, claimed it was never the company's long-term strategy to remain in the hardware business. He said he sees a brighter future working with distribution partners, as well as delivering video-on-demand to PCs.

He characterized the RCA box as a kind of proof-of-concept. “The original reason for creating the box was priming the pump with the concept of moving Internet content to various screens,” Frank said. “I'm playing the same game of poker — this is a discard, not a fold, in strategy.”

The Akimbo RCA Player, according to Frank, created conflicts with current and prospective distribution partners. “It just doesn't make sense for us to be competing with them in the consumer space,” he said.

Frank said the company will maintain its distribution deal with AT&T, which offers the Akimbo VOD service as part of the AT&T Homezone service. AT&T is an investor in Akimbo, as is Cisco Systems. “We have deals pending with a really robust set of distribution partners,” Frank said, declining to name them.

A part of Akimbo's readjusted business model will be selling video downloads to PCs. Last month, the company debuted software for PCs to let Windows XP and Vista users order programming from more than 160 partners, which include National Geographic, A&E Television Networks and Major League Baseball. The software, developed with Sonic Solutions, this summer will allow consumers to burn a DVD of the content they've downloaded from Akimbo.

The demise of the Akimbo RCA Player comes as other companies are eagerly racing to sell devices that can pump Internet video into TV sets.

Companies selling boxes able to play Web content on TVs include TiVo, Microsoft's Xbox 360 and the much-hyped Apple TV device. Others in this category include startup Vudu, which has landed $21 million in venture capital funding.

Frank would not disclose how many Akimbo RCA Players had been sold, which cost $200 and were available directly from Akimbo, as well as retailers Amazon.com and Fry's Electronics.

Akimbo will discontinue service for the RCA Akimbo Player on August 1. The company is offering refunds to customers who bought the unit, as well as a $25 credit toward premium programming available on the PC-download service.

So, what do customers do with their RCA Akimbo Player now? “We recommend that you recycle the Player with your local recycle company,” Akimbo says in a notice on its Web site.

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