“Hybrid” was one of the hot themes at this year’s IPTV World Forum a couple of weeks ago in London, in spite of the fact that the concept of melding two or more services into one is hardly new. But the term was scarcely mentioned here at the NAB Show, and when I suggested to Sezmi’s VP of Network Engineering and Operations, Veeraraghavan Krishnan, that his company offered a hybrid solution it didn’t appear to ring any bells.
But hybrid TV is exactly what Sezmi has developed. The company began its commercial launch six weeks ago in Los Angeles and its set-top boxes are available in Best Buy at $299. Customers receive the standard digital terrestrial TV ATSC channels available in their local area, together with content delivered in two additional ways: via the broadband Internet connection; and in additional capacity over the wireless broadcast signal, which Sezmi licenses from local broadcasters. Sezmi’s playout facility in Florida determines what spectrum is available in each location and balances the use of broadcast and IP delivery accordingly. In general the system pushes more popular content to the broadcast spectrum, as expected, but is flexible enough to adapt on an hourly basis.
Krishnan took me briefly through the viewer guide. The clever thing about Sezmi is that there really is no easy way for the user to know how content is delivered. The menu disguises the content’s origin, whether it arrives on demand over the Internet (and downloaded progressively), or stored on the set-top box’s 1TB HDD. The demonstration on the show floor inevitably suffered from some buffering and access issues. Sezmi claims that users require a 1.5Mbps broadband connection in order to watch internet-based video.
We also discussed Sezmi’s decision to offer personalised content. When the box is switched on users have to log in, either as individuals or as a guest. We’ve pointed out before
that the large screen TV is problematic when it comes to personalisation because it is usually sited in a multi-viewer environment. Which family member is supposed to log in to see their personal recommendations when everyone else is also watching TV? Krishnan did not appear to have an answer to this point beyond suggesting that the family should log in as a “guest” in their own home…
It’s important that Sezmi sorts out its position on this question because one of its next steps will be to introduce targeted advertising. If broadcasters and, more importantly, advertisers, are to benefit from that capability they will need better clarity on which viewer or viewers they are targeting.
There have been lots of discussions about Sezmi’s opportunities and business models. The assumption seems to be that people will not pay $299 up front for a subscription TV service that costs either $4.99 or $19.99 a month. As always, I’m not sure it’s as simple as that, and there may well be segments who find that a lower cost alternative to cable or satellite TV which blends broadcast and online content may be attractive. Whether those segments are large enough to sustain Sezmi towards profitability seems rather uncertain, but broadcasters cannot afford to ignore this sort of innovation in their battle for survival.
Client Reading: Global Digital Television Forecast: 1H'10