October 7, 2010

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Says me
Hybrid TV service doesn't know its own strengths
By John Andrews† jandrews@hippopress.com

These companies really need to stop sending me e-mails.

I got a message from Amazon this morning, touting the new Sezmi box. Itís an ďall-in-one personal TV system,Ē and the ad showed cute little icons for Local TV, On-Demand Movies & TV, Web Videos and Smart DVR. When I clicked through, I got real excited to see that it could also provide some cable channels.

Now, Iím not dumb. New Hampshire is rarely on the list of first rollouts for new media services, so I wasnít expecting the most advanced package they offer to be available here now. But the fine art of managing initial expectations was neglected by these folks, leaving me rather annoyed.

To start, the Sezmi Select service, their most basic option and only $4.99 a month, is available in 36 metro areas, including Boston. That metro area apparently reaches up here! Hooray! Can I get any cable channels and dump my unnamed cable provider?

You already know the answer: nope. In fact, when I dig into their website, I find that only Los Angeles has the $19.99 per month Select Plus service so far, and it only has 20 cable channels anyway.

Still, I can get local television channels, right? Thatís all I really need. Thing is, they ďprovideĒ local channels by giving you a digital tuner. They even gave me a list of stations that I would be able to pull in with their indoor antenna ó a total of three. A second list detailed the 18 channels I wouldnít be watching. Points for honesty, folks, but arenít you supposed to be selling me on this?

OK, OK, regroup. Since their service requires an Internet connection anyway, I would be keeping my unnamed cable provider that charges you more if you donít have at least basic TV service, so Iím better off getting my local channels through that in the first place. Itís on the very last page of their qualification questionnaire that it lists the features that actually make $4.99 a month seem like a bargain.

The biggest one is their Super-Smart DVR. The Sezmi box includes a terabyte of storage, so it compares favorably with TiVoís most expensive device, the $500 Premiere XL. Since the Sezmi is only $150, has a much cheaper monthly charge than TiVoís $12.95 and doesnít require any kind of contract, youíd think the DVR aspect would get more love from their marketing folks. It has many of TiVoís features, like recommending shows you might like based on what youíve recorded, entire series scheduling and simultaneous two-channel recording.

You can also stream video from YouTube, video podcasts and Sezmiís own on-demand service. No Netflix integration, unfortunately, but movie and old TV episodes from the on-demand feature sort of make up for that.

Since all this content comes over your Internet connection, Iím not sure why they have service metro areas at all. The company seems to be trying to emphasize its local and cable channel service, but thatís just a digital tuner anybody can buy on its own. The other features are much more compelling and competitive, so they should be what Sezmi is emphasizing.


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