Sezmi promises 'next generation' of TV

New service set for launch Thursday

NEW YORK -- Sezmi, a new service that promises to bring the "next generation" of TV, is set to launch with trials in pilot markets Thursday with an aim for a commercial release later this year.

The service, which has been buzzed about for over a year in Silicon Valley circles, was founded in 2006 as Building B and will deliver broadcast and cable TV along with Web and on-demand programming via a set-top box and a receiver. The company features personalization options and is powered by its trademarked FlexCast technology that combines digital terrestrial television with existing broadband infrastructure.

"It's the highest-performing digital receiver ever built," said Phil Wiser, Sezmi co-founder, chairman and president. "You have to address the needs of the consumer to keep the market moving."

While details around the Belmont, Calif.-based company are still sketchy, it is buoyed by a management team with strong ties to Hollywood and Silicon Valley and a sizable initial investment.

The company is led by Wiser, the former chief technology officer at Sony Corporation of America, and co-founder and CEO Buno Pati, a tech entrepreneur and investor. Former Viacom Productions president and NBC exec Perry Simon is the company's chief content officer and Sony BMG Music Entertainment chairman Andrew Lack is on Sezmi's board.

Last August, the company announced a financing round of $17.5 million led by Morgenthaler Ventures, an early investor in Apple, and Omni Capital. Bob Pavey, a general partner at Morgenthaler, and Arun Netravali, managing partner at Omni, are also on Sezmi's board.

Sezmi will provide all the major broadcast networks at launch but would not officially comment on content partnerships. The company is currently in talks with all the major cable networks and with Google's YouTube to provide further programming with more partnerships expected to be announced in the coming weeks and months.

The company also wouldn't reveal specifics as far as pricing, but Dave Allred, senior vp, marketing and product management, said it would be a monthly subscription fee and it would cost less than cable or satellite TV services. Initially, it will be available through existing broadband providers as the video component in triple-play packages, but Allred and Wiser wouldn't say which companies Sezmi has partnered with to roll out the product.

The company is currently beginning limited trials of the service and they plan to roll it out commercially in a few markets, which it wouldn't reveal, in six to seven months. The goal is to have Sezmi available in all markets by 2010 with the capabilities of reaching 100 million homes.

To get there, though, it will have to navigate a crowded set-top box marketplace where its competition includes, most notably, TiVo and AppleTV. Motorola, Cisco's Scientific Atlanta and Vudu are also all players in the field.