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Brier Dudley offers a critical look at technology and business issues affecting the Northwest.

November 12, 2008 at 9:00 PM

Sezmi tests hybrid broadband TV Seattle, aims for 2009 launch

Sezmi, a San Francisco-based TV venture that aims to rival Comcast and DirectTV, has just finished quietly testing the service for several months in Seattle.

Three of the company’s top managers are based here, but Seattle was chosen primarily because of its physical characteristics.

“If you’re going to test something that requires over-the-air distribution and RF reception, there really is no better market than Seattle, both with the topography and vegetation and everything,” said David Allred, a former Clearwire vice president who is now Sezmi’s senior vice president of marketing.

Fisher Communications, Tribune Broadcasting and Daystar Television Network participated in the Seattle tests, which Sezmi is calling a milestone that proved the viability of its technology.

Next the company will begin testing in homes and launch sometime after the first quarter of 2009.

Sezmi broadcasts mainstream TV content in high-definition by piggybacking on the digital spectrum used by local TV broadcasters. It supplements those signals by trickling down less-watched content from cable networks over broadband connections.

The service — which will include a set-top box with 1 terabyte of storage and have features such as on-demand movies — will be sold through broadband providers, similar to the way Qwest today sells DirectTV service as part of its “triple-play” bundles with voice and Internet service. It will also be sold through national retailers after it launches next year.

Qwest and Clearwire seem to be likely distribution partners of Sezmi, which could help them offer TV service bundles competitive with services from cable providers such as Comcast.

Sezmi isn’t ready to announce partnerships or regions that will receive the service, according to Allred.

Also coming soon will be announcements about funding for the company, which will help carry it through until it begins making money through subscriptions.

My guess is it will announce the funding next month, setting it up for a bigger announcement about launch partners at the Consumer Electronics Show in January.

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