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Sezmi makes it official

February 17, 2010 |  9:01 pm

Sezmi, cable bypass, over the top Sezmi, a low-cost rival to cable and satellite TV, is formally launching its service in Los Angeles and surrounding areas Thursday after a three-month trial run. The service comes in two tiers: $4.99 per month for dozens of local broadcast channels and on-demand programming from the Internet, and $19.99 for the broadcast and Internet programming plus 15 popular cable channels. But for now, at least, would-be subscribers have to buy almost $300 worth of equipment from Best Buy to gain access to the service.

That equipment includes a high-capacity digital video recorder, which works with Sezmi's software to record automatically programs that a viewer watches regularly, as well as other material that matches his or her profile. It also can create multiple profiles, enabling parents and kids to develop their own lineups of recordings. The other main piece is an antenna to capture the bulk of Sezmi's programming, which arrives over the air. That's why the service will be available only to homes capable of receiving a reasonably strong signal from local stations.

Beyond the upfront cost of the equipment, the main trade-off for Sezmi customers is that the service is heavy on local broadcast channels, light on cable fare. There's no HBO, ESPN, FX or Disney Channel, although the company is still negotiating with content providers and plans to offer more sports and children's programming later in the year. The service also supplements its offerings with a combination of free and pay-per-view video from the Internet, including movies from the major Hollywood studios, older TV titles from Crackle and YouTube's grab bag of clips and full-length content. Subscribers need a broadband connection to gain access to those videos, however.

The Los Angeles rollout will be the first for the company. Later this year it plans to expand into more markets, first with the $4.99 service and later with the more expensive tier. The latter will take longer, company President Phil Wiser explained, because Sezmi has to line up local broadcasters in each market to transmit the programming it offers from cable networks. It also expects to sign up telephone companies as partners, and they may let customers lease the equipment in lieu of buying it.

There's no shortage of people looking for a cheap alternative to cable. When Sezmi announced its free trial in November, it quickly attracted more than 14,000 applicants for 1,000 spots. Now, however, we'll find out how much of that demand remains for the service when customers actually have to pay for it.

-- Jon Healey

Healey writes editorials for The Times' Opinion Manufacturing Division. Follow him on Twitter: @jcahealey

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