Friday, November 14, 2008, 9:03 AM ET|Posted by Will Richmond
Sezmi, a company I wrote about enthusiastically back in May as a big potential disruptor of cable/satellite multichannel services, is making steady progress toward commercial launch. Phil Wiser, the company's co-founder/president gave me an update this week.
Most important, the company has completed technical trials in Seattle with three local broadcasters (Fisher, Tribune and Daystar), to prove in its "FlexCast" distribution model. Sezmi uses a portion of over-the-air spectrum, along with broadband connectivity, to its set-top box to bypass traditional cable infrastructure. Phil explained that broadcasters are motivated to work with Sezmi for several reasons: incremental revenue from leasing spectrum, enhanced positioning in the Sezmi UI vs. current EPGs, and new ad-driven destination areas or "Zones," that broadcasters can use to create more customized and monetizable viewing experiences.
On the cable networks side, Sezmi pulls down signals to its operational center in Melbourne, FL, processes them and uplinks them. Then, with dishes and other equipment installed at its local broadcast partners' facilities, Sezmi combines all channels for distribution to the home. That gives the viewer three ways to access programming: through traditional linear feeds, through VOD and through DVR.
Phil's confident that these technical trials validate the Sezmi delivery model as well as the feasibility of a national rollout. The next step is a beta trial, with "hundreds" of consumer homes, with a limited, geographically-based commercial rollout intended for sometime in Q1 (no doubt driven by its partners' priorities). Phil confirmed several other broadcast deals, including ones where multiple cities are covered, have been signed, and that several distribution partners are on board, including one with a national footprint (hmm, AT&T? Verizon? Someone else?)
Importantly, I also extracted from Phil that the company has closed another round of financing - greater than the earlier round of $17.5M. Sezmi has a big vision and with 3 pieces of consumer premise hardware (antenna, set top and remote), plus backend equipment and national/local delivery infrastructure to fund, this is a big dollar project for sure.
I remain optimistic about Sezmi's opportunity. As I said in the May post, I haven't seen the whole thing work at scale yet, so there are significant technology unknowns. There's also a sizable customer education mountain to climb (though hopefully mitigated by large well-branded partners' assistance). Then there's the small matter of signing up the local broadcasters, as well as the cable networks.
Still, Sezmi's core value proposition - a better viewing experience at a lower cost than today's cable/satellite incumbents - is right on the mark. The old adage about execution mattering more than strategy has rarely been truer than with Sezmi. It's going to be interesting to watch its continued progress.
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