By Lisa Johnston
New products on display at the American International Toy Fair, held in N
A new multichannel TV service startup that combines standard and high-def live broadcast TV, cable TV channels, on-demand services and Internet-delivered content and interactivity, and delivers it all to users through a personalized interface designed to simplify navigation and selection, has begun field trials in pilot markets in preparation for a rollout later this year.
The new company and service, called Sezmi and formally known as "Building B," has developed the system and will bring it to consumers through ISP partners. The company name was chosen to convey both the personalized aspect of the service and the magical quality of the expression "Open Sesame" from fairy tales, the company said.
Unlike other set-top multichannel content aggregation services that use satellite signals or wired cable or telephone lines to carry content to the TV set, Sezmi uses a mix of over-the-air digital broadcast spectrum leased from a portion of the unused capacity within TV broadcasters' digital channels. It also draws and relays Internet signals using broadband service connections, without the need for a PC.
The hardware Sezmi uses in the home is designed for simple, self-installation, and includes a 1TB hard drive to store content delivered via its various connection paths. The bulk of content is continuously collected and stored from bits transmitted by between two to four TV stations in each market.
The Sezmi service is said to be the "first complete TV2.0 offering, delivering a number of firsts to the multichannel viewing experience."
"What we have seen to date have been some very interesting and somewhat appealing TV2.0 features — TV downloads, Internet content, etc.," said Y.C. Buno Pati, Sezmi CEO. "All are features with a fair amount of appeal, but they are missing one thing — TV1.0, which is CBS, NBC, ABC and cable TV networks. We have pulled them altogether into a single, unified offering,"
The system places on-demand viewing at the center of the user navigation experience, unlike most other content delivery approaches that push it off to the side in spreadsheet-like onscreen grids. Live broadcast and cable TV is also offered as viewing options, but also packaged in a different way, using personal viewing patterns from each user to quickly display what should be the most compelling programming to the individual.
The system is also said to offer the first "seamless integration of live content, stored content, on-demand content and Internet video."
Program offerings are also personalized to each individual user, offering customized lists of viewing options tailored to the past viewing patterns of each viewer.
The system also extends some of the benefits of social networking to the TV, primarily involving the sharing of content — an activity that Sezmi sees gaining popularity in time.
For distribution, Sezmi will be pursuing local markets in tandem with ISP partners. The company said the exact go-to-market process and pricing will be handled for the most part by its partners, but it is expected that most of those partners will pursue sales to consumers through consumer electronics retailers.
Hardware pricing and service fees will be kept affordable to attract a mass audience, the company said.
"This is the very first TV offering that has been designed for self installation. There are no technicians involved and no one drilling holes in your house," Pati said. "It is really ideal for retail style distribution."
Hardware consists of a media receiver, which is essentially an electronic box with a built-in over-the-air TV reception system, a connected set-top box companion with a built-in 1TB hard drive DVR, and a simple remote control with a rotary dial design similar to that used on the front of Apple iPods. The remote contains different colored power buttons that identify each user in the home to help shift the channel selection presentation into a personalized package.
As for Sezmi's target audience, Pati said the company has identified virtually everyone from established cable, satellite and telco TV users to homes equipped with only over-the-air analog TV sets.
Pati said, "We are not targeting a few hundred thousand early adopters. We are targeting core TV viewing households in the U.S. — tens of millions of them."
In particular, the service should have immediate appeal to 20 million-plus households with over-the-air analog TVs needing to upgrade to digital as the nation's television broadcasting service makes the switch from analog in February 2009. Sezmi said its equipment can be used to receive digital TV broadcasts and convert those signals for output to analog as well as digital/high-definition sets.
Sezmi also plans to use the platform to deliver targeted television advertising to consumers, using the interactive nature of the design and the personalization technology it offers.
"Ultimately for our content partners and our broadcast partners, we have to deliver value to them. In this platform television advertising really starts to make sense," said Phil Wiser, Sezmi, chairman and president. "It really comes together as a targeted, interactive and measurable advertising platform, to take the TV industry to a place where the Internet has gone."
"The No. 1 complaint of consumers is, 'I don't have an offering that meets my needs, where it needs to meet my wallet in the marketplace," Wiser said. "It comes together very simply for the consumer. You have a basic TV subscription for a low monthly fee, offering all the broadcast networks, most of the cable networks you would expect, representing close to 90 percent of all viewing in the U.S., and integrated Internet video to start accessing all of those new forms of content, and a high-def DVR and on-demand content," Wiser said. "We make it easy to get into the product and offer a lot of choice on how to extend the product in one simple form factor."
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