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Sezmi Officially Launches in Los Angeles

Sezmi has officially launched its over-the-air and Internet based service in Los Angeles, providing local broadcast channels, some cable channels and on-demand programming over the Internet. The local broadcast channels are the same ones you can receive with any ATSC tuner. The cable channels are broadcast over-the-air on local Los Angeles TV stations but cannot be received without the purchase of a $299 set-top box available at Best Buy. I believe Sezmi is using MPEG-4/AVC to compress the cable channels, allowing more channels in the limited amount of broadcast bandwidth available.

The service costs less than cable TV—$19.95 per month for all of the channels or $4.99/month without the cable channels. The $299 set-top box includes a digital video recorder (DVR) that works with Sezmi's software to automatically record frequently viewed shows and other shows the software thinks the viewer might like.

The LA Times technology blog said that when Sezmi announced its free trial in November, it attracted more than 6,000 applications for 1,000 spots.

Will Sezmi succeed where USDTV, which also offered cable programming for a fee using broadcast spectrum, failed? I see a few things in Sezmi's favor. First, DTV stations are transmitting at higher power and receivers have greatly improved since USDTV first launched its service. Second, Sezmi is going after one of the biggest markets first–Los Angeles. If it can succeed there, Sezmi should be able to get the funding to expand into other markets. Finally, unlike USDTV, Sezmi uses the Internet as another distribution channel, allowing it to offer on-demand content that would be much more difficult to provide using broadcast bandwidth. We should know in a few months whether enough people are interested in giving up cable in exchange for Sezmi with a much smaller assortment of live cable channels.