Sezmi to Compete With Cable and Satellite TV

New service to use Internet and digital broadcasts to undercut rivals for cable-like programming.

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A new service aims to simplify modern television, combining Internet TV, local broadcasts, and cable networks in one box and one menu. Called Sezmi, the service is an ambitious effort to tap multiple technologies to pull off its effort, with unused TV spectrum at the center of its plan.

The company would broadcast the most popular cable programming over the air, using extra capacity that was given to TV stations as part of the transition to digital broadcasts. Some stations, including PBS, are using the new capacity to broadcast their own added programming, such as offering extra channels of how-to or kids shows.

But most of the added broadcasting capacity is sitting unused. Sezmi would lease time from local stations to broadcast offerings from cable networks like ESPN and HGTV for instant watching. Other programming could be downloaded from the Internet, along with more Webby fare such as YouTube.

A software interface would organize the programs for easy watching and hide the whiz-bang tech that's pulling programming from different sources. "It's invisible to the user where the content is coming from," says cofounder and CEO Buno Pati.

Adding the Internet, and a hard drive for storing programs, is an interesting twist on another failed effort to use extra capacity at TV stations. USDTV went bankrupt leasing time on local broadcast channels to cheaply deliver cable networks to homes for a monthly fee.

Sezmi has hired several former USDTV execs to help put together its technology. But Sezmi will take a different approach in selling its service. USDTV relied on consumers buying their box from the local Wal-Mart. Sezmi will sell its service through Internet service providers—such as telephone companies—that are anxious to offer video programming.

Sezmi isn't talking price, other than to say it expects customers to pay a monthly fee that's about half what they now pay for digital cable or satellite service. Sezmi is starting tests of its service in hopes to launch in a few markets by year's end.