Mari and I sat in on the Sezmi webcast briefing earlier this week and we’ve been slow in covering the news… As it turns out, this gives me an opportunity to provide some clarity in response to the widespread confusion.
At a high level, Sezmi (formerly Building B) is a video service with the goal of replacing our existing cable or satellite provider (television programming), and enhancing value by providing additional content (think Internet) and new methods of interaction.
Consumers won’t be Sezmi’s direct customers. Sezmi’s plan is to offer sidelined broadband providers, telcos, and local television franchises a platform to offer television services (including advertising) without having to roll their own solution. They haven’t announced any distribution partners yet but, with imminent trials and plans to launch by the end of the year, there’s at least one company on the hook. Obviously, Verizon (FiOS TV) and AT&T (Homezone, U-verse) are spoken for. Given the mega quadruple-play alliance dissolution and forthcoming WiMax push, Sprint’s a likely target. I also wouldn’t be surprised to hear of Sezmi going after Qwest or even an Earthlink. Though, perhaps I’m thinking too big here…
Sezmi will be using a hybrid approach to receive (and in many cases, provide) content including local over-the-air broadcasts, transmission of “cable” channels via leased (or partner/reseller) airwaves (see USDTV, rip), and the Internet. Sezmi hasn’t announced which premium content providers they’ve signed, though the USA Network was featured in the webcast.
The initial Sezmi (leased) hardware package consists of an antenna unit which includes 1 terrabyte of storage, set-top box, and remote. The long-term goal is to transform the STB into more of a thin-client with the NAS providing most of the heavy lifting – and supporting multiple STBs throughout the home.
For me, the most interesting portion of the webcast was a live demo of the Sezmi interface/experience – which they’re calling “TV 2.0.” (Many screengrabs below.) In addition to the DVR functionality you’d expect, Sezmi provides some innovative new ways of integrating, organizing, and presenting content. I wouldn’t go so far as saying they bring social networking to the TV (though, that’s one of the things they’re saying), but the per-user playlist plus sharing and community rating features are overdue and appreciated.
Several folks have asked me if these guys are going to succeed. It’s difficult to handicap the odds without knowing who Sezmi’s initial partners are. Which brings up the probable point of this pre-announcement: drumming up interest on both the potential distributor/reseller side and on the content provider side. Breaking into the TV business as a new player will be difficult (and expensive), and neither building out compelling solutions nor educating customers of the added value is guaranteed against the entrenched players. At the very least, they’ll need to sign resellers with some serious muscle to have a just shot at pulling it off.