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Sezmi Sizes Up Seattle With TV Trial

Sezmi, a startup developing a cable-like service that delivers multichannel video over digital TV airwaves and the Internet, has completed a technical trial of its system with three broadcast partners in Seattle.

The tests, which occurred over the past two months, were completed with spectrum leased from three broadcasting companies with Seattle TV stations: Fisher Communications, which owns and operates KOMO (an ABC affiliate) and KUNS (Univision); Tribune Broadcasting, which owns KCPQ (Fox) and KMYQ (MyNetworkTV); and Daystar Television Network, a religious broadcaster that operates KWDK.

Sezmi president Phil Wiser said the tests simulated close to 1 million viewers simultaneously accessing the service.

“This part of the trial was primarily tactical. This is just focused on the fact that the system works,” Wiser said in an interview.

Sezmi and its partners plan to enter consumer trials next and expects to launch commercially in the first half of 2009; it has yet to announce pricing and other details of the service, including which telco providers it will offer the service in conjunction with. Originally the startup had anticipated launching service before the end of this year.

The Sezmi service blends together over-the-air TV with on-demand and linear cable and Web content. Wiser said the startup’s base offering will include a cable lineup in the “mid-30s,” but he declined to say which programmers Sezmi has signed agreements with.

The service ingests cable network programming at Harris’ operations center in Melbourne, Fla., then sends it to viewers over digital TV airwaves or the Internet. In Seattle, the four TV stations provide an aggregate of close to 30 Megabits per second of bandwidth. On the Internet side, Sezmi’s service requires a minimum broadband connection of 1.5 Mbps.

“We wanted to ensure we could integrate with the broadcasters and not disrupt their signals,” Wiser said, noting that it took about two weeks to integrate with each TV station.

Wiser added that Sezmi started with Seattle because it’s a “challenging market” in terms of topography.

Sezmi is offering broadcast partners like Fisher, Tribune and Daystar the opportunity to sell targeted ads on its service, as well as deliver local content like news and weather in a Web-like portal on the TV, Wiser said.

“With the drive among consumers for greater customization and control over their media, Sezmi strengthens our core business by improving our ability to better target advertising and engage with viewers while positioning us for future opportunities utilizing our digital spectrum,” Fisher president and CEO Colleen Brown said, in a statement.

The Sezmi set-top, manufactured by Taiwan-based Tatung, includes DVR functions and has 1 terabyte of storage, enough for 1,000 hours of standard-definition video.

Founded in June 2006, Sezmi (pronounced “SAYS-me”) has raised $17.5 million in funding from investors including Morgenthaler Ventures, OmniCapital Group, Index Ventures, TD Fund and Legend Ventures.