It has been a busy week and I haven’t had a chance to cover this yet. Last week a new player in the content distribution broke cover and announced their plans – Sezmi. Sezmi had been operating in sealth mode as ‘Building B’ prior to their announcement. Sezmi has grand plans to operate as an alternative to cable and satellite, using terrestrial boadcast and broadband. They don’t plan to offer their products directly to consumers, but rather they’re looking to partner with 3G and broadband providers who would offer the Sezmi products to their customers.
In many ways the Sezmi architecture reminds me of XStreamHD‘s plans, only where XStreamHD uses satellite Sezmi uses terrestrial broadcast. The terrestrial component seems, on its face, to be very similar to the now defunct Moviebeam system. Where moviebeam used ‘spare’ NTSC bandwidth, usually piggybacked on PBS stations, Sezmi will be ATSC to broadcast their digital signals. Broadband will be used to distribute additional content. The plans to partner with 3G providers seems to indicate that they could use 3G, or the forthcoming 4G networks, such as WiMax for distribution as well. The recently auctioned 700MHz spectrum would be perfect for this kind of use.
The Sezmi system uses a main receiver in the home, which acts as a DVR with 1TB of storage. It will also have eSATA and USB ports for storage expansion. While client boxes attached to TVs in the home provide access to the content. Sezmi is looking to offer a ‘TV 2.0′ experience, with personalization for five different users in the home. Each person will see a customized menu of their own selected program. The Sezmi system will also be able to record OTA ATSC content, and access web video from sites such as YouTube.
Frankly, I just don’t see how this will succeed. Terrestrial frequency availability is limited, and even if they used H.264 they’d only get maybe 4-6 HD channels per frequency, to get more would mean highly compressing them. Providing SD content instead of HD would allow for several times as many channels, but the market is shifting to HD. And most broadband services lack sufficient bandwidth to provide a full channel lineup. I’m guessing they’ll do something like cable systems using SDV. The broadcast will be used for high demand content that is needed by more users, while the broadband will be used for content on demand – so if a user requests a specific program that isn’t ‘mainstream’ it will come over broadband. That would allow them to avoid sending the majority of the lineup into each home all the time.
But it remains to be seen what content licenses Sezmi will be able to obtain, to offer a lineup competitive to cable and satellite. As well as the pricing, which will have to be highly competitive to get users to convert. And it will only work for those who have solid ATSC reception, and it seems like broadband will be required as well.
From a technical perspective it is interesting, but as a consumer I don’t see the appeal in what they’ve announced to date.