Is Sezmi a Cable TV Killer?

By  |  Monday, November 16, 2009 at 3:00 am

Sezmi LogoI’ve written periodically of my flirtation with dumping cable for an Internet-only approach to my TV watching. I haven’t, however, pulled the trigger–mostly because cable still has a lot of live programming, such as news and sports, that I can’t replicate over the Net alone.

That’s why I’m intrigued by Sezmi, a TV service that’s announcing that it’s rolling out to its first real customers (in Los Angeles). The service aims to provide a more personalized, Net-savvy, inexpensive alternative to cable and satellite–complete with the real broadcast and cable channels you can’t get from Apple TV, Roku, or Vudu. It does so via a 1TB DVR/set-top box that provides access to three types of TV sources: broadcast stations, cable channels, and Internet content. (It snags the first two kinds over the air, via a powerful antenna in a box that looks like a loudspeaker: Sezmi simply grabs local broadcast channels as is, and the company is leasing spectrum from local broadcasters to transmit cable channels–including both standard-def and HD.)

Sezmi box

Sezmi’s lineup of cable channels isn’t as expansive as a higher-tier package on cable or satellite, but it’s got Animal Planet, Bravo, Cartoon Network, ¬†CNN, Comedy Central, Discovery, MSNBC, MTV, Nickelodeon, Oxygen, SyFy, TBS, TCM, TLC, TNT, VH1, and more. The most notable omissions are sports channels–I don’t see ESPN or others in the lineup–and premium movie channels such as HBO, Showtime, and Cinemax. But Sezmi does offer a store that sells and rents movies and TV shows from a library of thousands of titles (powered in part by Roxio’s Cinemanow). You also get access to Internet video such as YouTube and podcasts.

The service is touting itself as


Sezmi uses its roomy 1TB hard disk to give each member of the family his or her own personalized on-demand TV experience: Grownups and kids both get program guides tailored to their watching habits that weave together broadcast, cable, and Internet shows, including ones on the DVR and ones showing at scheduled times.

The company gave me a sneak peek that included a demo of its interface: It’s impossible to come to definitive conclusions without hands-on time, and I’m particularly curious about how seamlessly it knits together its disparate sources of content. But from what I saw, it looks reasonably promising.

How much will you pay for Sezmi, and where will you get it? Its goal is to undercut the cost of cable: Basic service that only includes broadcast stations will go for $4.99 a month, and a broadcast/cable package will cost $24.99 a month. A la carte movies and TV episodes are extra. You’ll either buy the box and antenna (for $299, $50 more than TiVo charges for a DVR with one-sixth the capacity) or rent it. Once the service rolls out to more regions–which the company says will happen soon–it’ll be available both at retail stores and through service providers such as medium-sized phone companies and DSL ISPs.

I generally feel like I’m watching maybe five percent of the channels my Comcast cable service gives me–and among the very few that I’m not willing to give up are CNN, MSNBC, and TCM. So Sezmi, which has all those stations, sounds like a plausible alternative–and even if I had to plunk down $299 for the box, I’d make it up pretty quickly in the money I’d save over cable.

Cable and satellite TV subscribers: Are you basically happy, or does Sezmi sound alluring?


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23 Comments For This Post

  1. DaveZatz Says:

    “Sezmi Supreme” isn’t provided via broadband… and will only be offered in regions where they’re leasing spectrum to broadcast it OTA. That’s my understanding anyhow. USDTV tried something similar, but failed to get more than a a couple cities (Utah, Colorado, Texas) covered before running out of cash. My thoughts here:

  2. Backlin Says:

    Those channels listed in the article are the same ones I watch all the time on satellite, and that price is very alluring. The DVR functionality is also very nice, something I don’t get with my satellite package now (I need to update that).

  3. AnthonyF. Says:

    Live sports is the only thing keeping me on Cable tv. Sure JustinTV pirates it but to have consistent live would be the deal breaker imo…

  4. Garth Says:

    Live sports are never going to be free on some internet box, there are billions of dollars spent on the rights fees and you have to pay to play.

    Comcast (and everyone else that has ESPN) pays disney about ~$2.50 a month for every subscriber for ESPN alone and has no choice other than not having ESPN which would cause a customer riot.

    There is no solution on the horizon for the general population (people who like sports more than twitter) for getting rid of cable unless Sezmi pays $2.50 a month for each box to disney.

    All of these products are doomed as they have no chance outside of a very narrow market of techies that don’t watch sports or news and gets their tv from bittorrent.

  5. Steve Says:

    I’ve been off cable for several years now. I guess whether you can survive w/o cable all depends on your viewing habits.

    What did it for me was the availability of over the air HD, for the major sports events in HD via network channels and Netflix watch instantly to catch up on TV and movies.

    The rest of what I watch is on Hulu and websites. The NewsHour, Charlie Rose, The Daily Show, Colbert Report, CNN – Zakaria, Annamanpour, Washington Week, The Tonight Show, Al Jazeera English, Fringe, GritTV, etc…

    You also have to be patient enough to wait a year or so for DVDs of cable shows to be released.

    The only advantage Sezmi offers over my Mac Mini may be an easier to program DVR and capacity.

    I suspect the rate I’m paying, $10/month for Netflix (not counting my DSL subscription, which I use for non-media related purposes), for this very patchy a-la-carte viewing is not going to last as we’re in this media companies are trying to figure out how to monetize the internet phase progresses, but I’m enjoying it while it lasts.

  6. PostItChild Says:

    Sezmi is a bit of a throwback to ON-TV, a short-lived over the air subscription TV service in the late 70’s founded by Norman Lear.

  7. heulenwolf Says:

    I don’t get the point of paying $5/month for broadcast TV. Is Sezmi’s wireless broadcast system better than DTV’s, reaching more homes, better quality? Why not put a DTV receiver in their DVR box? Assuming Sezmi’s coverage is better with comparable quality to justify the cost, as a cable subscriber, I’d be tempted. Truth is, though, that the cable company in my area charges as much for Cable Modem + TV as they do for Cable Modem alone, so I’d still end up paying more per month if I replaced Cable TV with this service.

  8. Erick Says:

    Sign me up! I did sign up to hopefully get a free 3-month demo.

  9. Erick Says:

    To Heulenwolf, you’re basically paying for the guide and the internet access, etc. Not paying for the OTA, itself, just the service and DVR features

  10. Steve Says:

    “USDTV tried something similar.”

    And where do you think those USDTV people are working?

  11. John Willis Says:

    I like the product. I’m not a big sports fan nor cable viewer. I’m really not missing anything when it comes to cable anyways. Hey, I’m waiting for Sezmi to come to my area.

  12. Raul G Says:

    I just signed on for their 90-day trial. Let’s see how this device competes to other DVRs. One disappointment — there is no specific area(s) where Sezmi will work. If I decide to move there is no guarantee it will be operable…one con.

  13. dtv Says:

    this Sezmi is a fraud. it has wasted investors about $100 millions, but produce nothing. It is not offering DTV via local TV stations. To get so called Sezmi services, you don’t need anything from Sezmi. All you need is internet access. Then you will be able to get TV or VOD from YouTube, hulu and Amazon. It is that simple. Its announcement is more or less to cheat investors further. No one will pay Sezmi a penny for its so called services.

  14. Joe Friday Says:

    Best tv I have ever watched. I even keep it on when I am asleep.

  15. Don't B Fooled Says:

    I tried this for the free 90 day demo and I was very disappointed. Here are a few reasons.
    1. It’s advertised as WiFi, but it’s not. You need a wired ethernet connection or a “Homeplug” adapter ($150).
    2. It did a good job receiving the local broadcast channels in HD, but none of the “cable” channels were in HD.
    3. The internet channels were terrible, horrible, awful.
    4. The interactive guide was not so interactive. Very difficult to understand. The guide doesn’t allow you to directly tune to a channel, you have to scroll through everything. It is suppose to be a smart guide, learning your viewing habits, but with such a small amount of channels to draw info from it is pretty much useless.

    I don’t see how this can be successful in any way. I get a much better picture using my mac book pro (with a mini display port to hdmi cable) connected to my 50″ plasma. I get all the content I need with Hulu and Netflix. Not worth the $25 a month going to ask for.

  16. NewTV Man Says:

    Sezmi is available a Best Buy to order online:

  17. Stophe Says:

    Horrible Product!! #FAIL

    Here’s my list of why this is a fail.

    1- This product is pre-alpha. I’m embarrassed that BestBuy is putting the product on their shelves. I encountered major bugs while performing simple tasks. Try downloading any content with it. You’ll get white static for about 3 seconds.

    2- The product is touting itself as bridging the gap between internet & TV. But meanwhile, the only web content I can get is YouTube and Podcasts. And the only channels I get for $5 a month are channels I can get for free with a wire-hanger.

    3- You need 3 clunky devices to make this thing work!??!! I have no idea why they didn’t put the receiver and the DVR together. It must have been to get it to market faster. Their antena is the size of a speaker from the 80’s. FAIL!!

    4- It took literally 1 hour to setup the box. That includes 15 minutes of putting the three devices together, and downloading new firmware for the glitchy product. Once up and running, I was forced to go through a painstaking process that required info such as Gender and Age. This including zip-code is invaluable for advertisers, but crappy for a user who is paying a subscription.

    5- The interface and remote are inconsistent. Each screen requires a different set of buttons. These guys have no user-interaction sense. I constantly had to look down at the remote to control the screen. It should be a passive experience!!

    Normally I give new products the benefit of the doubt, but this has no future. A total waste of money. Just buy yourself a cheap computer and hook it up to your TV and run free software such as Plex or Boxee on it… You’ll save yourself $500.

  18. Mikel Says:

    I just got off the phone with someone at Sezmi…it really did not assist me, since the Detroit market, which I am adjacent to, but considered… does not have the “plus” (cable networks) version.

    One thing that I was always a proponent of… DTV stations not coming in, mainly in apartments…so the public loses local info. Sezmi does not change this. If the locals are not from the net, you cannot guarantee reception of any locals. So why pay $300.00 to Best Buy to have an expensive tuner/DVR? I already have that, courtesy of Panasonic. Without a guarentee of locals or cable nets, I would waste $300.00 and pay $5.00 p/mo on what I get free. I will not be getting any new stations, so from that aspect, it won’t be a cable killer.

    I can get youtube already on my PC. I can get other videos as well. This will not change by paying that 300 dollars and then 5 dollars afterwards.

    This reminds me of “Wireless Cable” from the late 80’s and early 90’s. You needed an antenna to get you locals. You also needed a separate antenna to get a few cable nets. Does anyone else remember this?

    Another thing… the operator did not know for sure if the tuner inside the box was ATSC (DTV) and NTSC (old standard, snowy TV) or both. I get local Canadian stations on NTSC, along with my low power locals.

    According to the search that the guy did, I am not guaranteed to get the one station I always watch… ION Television (on WPXD-DT 33).

    No, it’s not a cable killer, at least of yet. If they add many more cable nets, keep costs to consumers low… it can compete. It won’t kill cable though… and FIOS (Verizon) and Uverse (AT&T) already have advantages in most markets.

  19. Brianna Lee Says:

    Satellite TV users will definitely grow in the following years and also satellite internet users.`”,

  20. Floating Shelves  Says:

    satellite TV is getting cheap nowadays, i would like to have my own satellite TV too,””

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