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Sezmi Founder: We'll Replace Cable & Satellite TV

NEW YORK -- Taking shots at cable MSOs and satellite TV operators, personalized TV startup Sezmi Corp. threw down the gauntlet here at the Future of Television conference Thursday.

“The key to the industry moving forward is true convergence, and this [Sezmi's offering] is an all-in-one solution for the home. We’re going to take on cable and satellite companies and replace them in the home,” said Phil Wiser, a Sezmi founder, here during a panel session.

Wiser, whose company launched a trial in Los Angeles earlier this week with a receiver that delivers video from broadband Internet connections and digital over-the-air broadcast signals, also took aim at over-the-top broadband video services that rely on add-on set-tops, such as Boxee . (See Sezmi Launches Video Services Pilot in LA, Sezmi Raises Cash, Slims Down, and Sezmi Aims Beyond IPTV.)

“Our view is consumers are tired of the stack of boxes,” Wiser said while sitting on a stage just a few feet from Boxee chief creative officer Zach Klein. “The challenge Boxee and others face is getting content. The content companies are not going to abandon their models to try out something new."

Still, Wiser and other panelists agreed that concepts like the cable industry’s "TV Everywhere" initiative, which will allow cable subs to access content from their pay-TV subscriptions on Web and mobile platforms, are crucial.

“I think TV Everywhere is paramount. It’s not just cord cutting. I’m a strong believer that consumers will have one TV subscription, and they’ll expect to have access to that content [on multiple screens],” Wiser said

Klein, who joined Boxee earlier this year after stints at Vimeo LLC and CollegeHumor, took a more diplomatic approach, insisting that there is room in the sector for multiple service models and multiple service providers.

“I don’t think there has to be a loser... We’re just solving an inefficiency in the user experience,” Klein said.

The panel also focused on the importance of distributing applications that can change the way viewers consume TV. When asked if AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) wants to emulate Apple Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL)’s App Store on the telco's U-verse TV service, AT&T digital media solutions director of business strategy and market development Steve Piacentino noted that U-verse already has 20 applications available.

“We’re going to continue to drive it as we see success, and we’ll look to the iPhone model to drive that,” Piacentino said. He didn’t say whether AT&T would charge fees for applications that subscribers could download to a set-top, or describe the types of new applications the company is looking to offer.

Klein said Boxee offers users “hundreds” of applications, and that he’s surprised at the number of apps that Boxee users build themselves in order to watch specific programs through the Boxee receiver. “What’s most surprising to me about Boxee is how many of our users are assuming the role of network executive,” he added.

Also worth noting from Thursday's panel:

  • Echoing comments from executives at the conference, Wiser said that consumers are willing to endure poorer quality video delivered from YouTube Inc. and other sites to the television. “People barked out, ‘Search for this,'” Wiser said while describing surfing YouTube recently with friends, using Sezmi. “Even though the quality was completely different, nobody cared. That’s convergence. That experience -- it worked.”

  • Piacentino declined to give a yes or no answer when asked if AT&T would be deploying DVRs to its subscribers five years from now. But he noted that he has three “old” TiVo Inc. (Nasdaq: TIVO) receivers in his home.

  • “Linear TV, except for live sports and news, is dead,” declared Gershon Media president Bernard Gershon, pointing to the power of DVRs, on-demand programming, and content delivered via the Web.

    — Steve Donohue, Special to Cable Digital News

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