Unity Telecom To Float Hybrid Antenna/Broadband TV Service

Unity Telecom, a private-equity backed startup venture, this summer plans to launch a TV service that combines free, over-the-air TV broadcast channels with Internet-delivered content including Walmart's Vudu VOD service -- which it claims doesn't raise any legal or regulatory issues with broadcasters.

The company will market the Unity TV service along with voice-over-IP phone services. The video service will be delivered via a set-top with DVR features for watching and recording local HD channels, and also will provide content over the broadband connection from Vudu, Flickr, Picasa, Facebook, Twitter and about 50 other Internet services.

Carrollton, Texas-based Unity Telecom is using Entone's FusionTV solution for the video service. FusionTV uses middleware from Minerva Networks, with TV guide data supplied by Tribune Media Services.

David Patrick, Unity Telecom's director of sales and marketing, said the company is aiming to launch the broadband TV service in early July 2012. Pricing is still to be determined, he said.

Other Internet TV startups, including Aereo, Skitter and Ivi.TV, have tried to deliver local TV signals over broadband -- and run afoul of broadcasters, which assert they are retransmitting the content without permission. Unity Telecom claims that Entone's hybrid FusionTV, by contrast, prevents conflicts with broadcasters by allowing it to deliver free-to-air programming using a home-based antenna, in line with laws and FCC regulations.

"Entone's FusionTV stands in stark contrast to other broadband TV models that defy the FCC and broadcast industry," Unity Telecom president and CEO Chuck Schneider said in a statement. "With FusionTV, we steer clear of legal gray areas concerning broadband TV solutions."

Still, other startups have tried -- and failed -- to succeed with an antenna-plus-broadband approach.

For example, Sezmi marketed an inexpensive bundle of live TV and VOD content in 36 U.S. markets, delivered via a combination of broadcast airwaves -- leased from local TV stations -- and broadband Internet. But Sezmi never got much traction and the company, which had raised more than $92 million, was acquired in December 2011 by Czech Republic-based video management services provider KIT Digital for $27 million.

Unity Telecom said it will distribute Entone's FusionTV service through a nationwide network comprising more than 3,500 retail locations. Patrick declined to identify the company's distribution partners.

Unity Telecom is owned by Amvensys Capital Group. Its portfolio of services includes Unity HomeVoice - VoIP; Unity Line - Wireless home phone replacement; and Unity TV - Broadband Internet TV.