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NAB Shows Off New Spectrum Applications

The National Association of Broadcasters continued to defend broadcasters' spectrum at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas Friday, as it organized a small media briefing to demonstrate new mobile DTV devices and a hybrid broadcast/broadband pay-TV service from startup firm Sezmi that relies on broadcast spectrum to deliver a mix of cable channels.

NAB Executive VP Marcellus Alexander said NAB's intention in organizing the briefing, which included presentations from Open Mobile Video Coalition Executive Director Anne Schelle and Sezmi CEO Buno Pati, was not to endorse "any particular product or technology," but simply to show two innovative new services.

"And the oxygen for this innovation we've shown you is spectrum," said Alexander.

NAB President and CEO Gordon Smith said he became aware of Sezmi in an NAB board meeting in New York last month, which Sezmi executives visited to express their concerns over proposals to reallocate some of the broadcaster spectrum as part of the FCC's national broadband plan. Sezmi is currently testing its service, which delivers both over-the-air broadcasts and broadband video to a specialized set-top and indoor antenna, with four stations in Los Angeles and plans to roll out commercially later this year.

"They told us it was their hope that we would defend our spectrum," said Smith. "And then they showed us a product that was extraordinary."

Smith said the Sezmi subscription service, which the company plans to provision by leasing parts of broadcasters' spectrum and market through telcos, had a superior picture quality to existing cable and satellite pay-TV services and would be cheaper to consumers. Sezmi plans to sell its hardware for $299 and its monthly programming service for $24.99 per month, while VOD movies will run $3.99.

Sezmi and mobile DTV, which is being demonstrated by various manufacturers here at CES, are two examples of how broadcasters can "be filling their spectrum with exciting new products," said Smith. The former Oregon Senator (R) referred to his time on the Senate Commerce Committee, when he heard suggestions that broadcasting had become outdated. He said services such as mobile DTV and Sezmi were proof that those assertions were wrong.

"Government is not very good at picking winners and losers," said Smith. "What would be a terrible thing for the government to do, so soon after the digital transition, is to begin picking winners and losers. And I think both of these are winners."

Schelle and ION Media VP of Technology Brett Jenkins showed several mobile DTV devices, including an LG Maze phone with integrated mobile DTV chip and antenna and the Tivit from Valups, which received live mobile DTV signals and retransmitted them to an Apple iTouch handheld device via Wi-Fi networking. She said the Tivit should also be working with Google's Nexus phone in the next few months.

Schelle notes the reason why it is easy for mobile DTV to integrate with smartphones like the iPhone is that while it relies on one-way delivery, the core technology is IP-based.

"We're talking about a mobile broadband wireless network that broadcasters really have," said Schelle, who added that the two-way capability of smartphones will allow broadcasters to accurately measure mobile DTV viewing.

Pati and Sezmi President Phil Wiser demonstrated Sezmi's unique user interface, which uses the one-terabyte hard drive in the Sezmi set-top to seamlessly blend a mix of live broadcast, timeshifted and broadband-delivered video. He said that popular movies such as "Avatar" could be provided to Sezmi viewers on an on-demand basis by broadcasting them once and storing them on the set-top for later viewing, which would be far more efficient than sending them "redundantly a million times" over broadband.

"There is no segregation of these technologies," said Wiser. "They should be brought together."

Sezmi already has retail deals with major stores like Best Buy, said Pati, and will announce distribution deals with telcos next month. He said that telcos who want to provide video to their customers see Sezmi as a cost-effective solution compared to "spending billions" laying their own fiber, as Verizon has done with its FiOS service.

While Sezmi uses the broadband pipe to transmit "long-tail" content, such as on-demand movies, to the box, all of the live programming is delivered over-the-air through the broadcast spectrum. That includes conventional ATSC MPEG-2 broadcasts of local stations and MPEG-4 broadcasts of cable networks that are squeezed into the broadcast spectrum Sezmi leases from stations.  Pati says Sezmi has developed a "smart antenna" that solves most DTV reception problems, which is essential to provide the Sezmi service in a market.

"If we've forgot about one thing in the last 40 years in this country, it's the ability to receive over-the-air TV signals well," he said.