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Sezmi, Best Buy Ink Hybrid TV Pact for L.A.

3/12/2010 7:25 AM Eastern

Startup Sezmi is planning a nationwide
rollout in 2010 of a next-generation interactive TV service
— with dozens of local channels, 23 cable networks, Web
video, on-demand content and a high-definition DVR
— for less than half the price of a typical cable package.

Last week Sezmi announced an exclusive distribution
deal with Best Buy for the commercial launch in the Los
Angeles area. The service’s two programming packages are
aimed at the budget-minded, with monthly pricing of $4.99
for the broadcast-only version and $19.99 for the premium
cable package.

However, the service is bring-your-own-broadband:
Customers must already have a cable modem or DSL service
to plug their Sezmi set-top into.

Best Buy will sell Sezmi’s $299 system that includes an
antenna and a hybrid set-top, which pulls in broadcast
and cable programming and VOD using a combination
of Internet bandwidth and multicast spectrum leased
from TV broadcasters. The set-top, manufactured by Taiwan’s
Tatung, includes an HD DVR that automatically
organizes live, recorded, on-demand and online content
and can store up to 1,400 hours of programming.

“Consumers have been clamoring for a better way to view their favorite shows, movies and Web videos in a
seamless way, and at an affordable price,” Sezmi co-founder
and CEO Buno Pati said in a statement. “Today, Sezmi
is making that a reality with the first self-installed, all-in-one
home television service that delivers leading cable
networks, live and on-demand, with the easiest access to
broadcast, on-demand and online entertainment.”

Sezmi (pronounced “SAYS-me”) has not disclosed how
many people in the Los Angeles area would be able to receive
the service. Initially the service is available in parts
of Los Angeles and in areas of Orange, San Bernardino and
Riverside counties. L.A.-area residents can determine if
their home is within Sezmi’s service coverage area at the
startup’s Web site.

The L.A. launch will be followed by additional rollouts in
other markets across the U.S. this year, Sezmi said. Broadcast-
only versions of the service will hit in the spring, and
the higher-priced package with cable channels will be offered
in additional markets beginning this summer.

The Sezmi Select package offers more than 50 local
channels from the L.A. area, including those of ABC,
CBS, Fox, NBC, MyNetwork, PBS, Azteca, Telefutura,
Telemundo and Univision. It’s “a highly attractive service
that meets the needs of a large percentage of the U.S.
population at a monthly subscription cost of only $4.99,”
the company said. Sezmi Select customers also will receive
ongoing guide updates, Web video additions, and
enhancements to the HD DVR.

Currently, Sezmi’s cable lineup for $19.99 per month includes
VOD content and linear feeds from TBS, TNT, USA
Network, Bravo, CNN, Headline News, Discovery Channel,
Comedy Central, Planet Green, MSNBC, VH1, Cartoon Network,
Oxygen, CNBC, MTV, Nickelodeon, TLC, Science Channel,
Syfy, Animal Planet, TruTV, Boomerang and TCM.

Belmont, Calif.-based Sezmi also will offer on-demand
movie rentals, ranging from 99 cents to $4.99 each. Moviestudio
partners include 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment,
Lionsgate, Paramount Pictures, Sony Pictures Home
Entertainment, Universal Studios and Warner Brothers.

The commercial launch comes after the startup’s 1,000-
subscriber test in L.A., which kicked off in November. According
to Sezmi, more than 14,000 people signed up to
get into the free trial.

To deliver the service, Sezmi is using spectrum from four
L.A.-area TV stations: KOCE (PBS member station in Huntington
Beach, Calif.), KRCA (Liberman Broadcasting), KAZA
(Pappas Telecasting, affiliated with Azteca America) and
KDOC (unaffiliated, owned by Ellis Communications).

Sezmi previously said it has secured distribution deals
with telcos, which would off er the service to their broadband
customers, but hasn’t announced any to date.

September