Hello, Sezmi -- Goodbye, Cable

I’ve written periodically of my flirtation with dumping cable for an Internet-only approach to my TV watching. I haven’t, however, pulled the trigger – mostly because cable still has a lot of live programming, such as news and sports, that I can’t replicate over the Net alone.

That’s why I’m intrigued by Sezmi, a TV service that’s announcing that it’s rolling out to its first real customers (in Los Angeles). The service aims to provide a more personalized, Net-savvy, inexpensive alternative to cable and satellite – complete with the real broadcast and cable channels you can’t get from Apple TV, Roku, or Vudu. It does so via a 1TB DVR/set-top box that provides access to three types of TV sources: broadcast stations, cable channels, and Internet content. (It snags the first two kinds over the air, via a powerful antenna in a box that looks like a loudspeaker: Sezmi simply grabs local broadcast channels as is, and the company is leasing spectrum from local broadcasters to transmit cable channels – including both standard-def and HD.)

Sezmi’s lineup of cable channels isn’t as expansive as a higher-tier package on cable or satellite, but it’s got Animal Planet, Bravo, Cartoon Network, CNN, Comedy Central, Discovery, MSNBC, MTV, Nickelodeon, Oxygen, SyFy, TBS, TCM, TLC, TNT, VH1, and more. The most notable omissions are sports channels–I don’t see ESPN or others in the lineup–and premium movie channels such as HBO, Showtime, and Cinemax. But Sezmi does offer a store that sells and rents movies and TV shows from a library of thousands of titles (powered in part by Roxio’s Cinemanow). You also get access to Internet video such as YouTube and podcasts.

The service is touting itself as Sezmi uses its roomy 1TB hard disk to give each member of the family his or her own personalized on-demand TV experience: Grownups and kids both get program guides tailored to their watching habits that weave together broadcast, cable, and Internet shows, including ones on the DVR and ones showing at scheduled times.

The company gave me a sneak peek that included a demo of its interface: It’s impossible to come to definitive conclusions without hands-on time, and I’m particularly curious about how seamlessly it knits together its disparate sources of content. But from what I saw, it looks reasonably promising.

How much will you pay for Sezmi, and where will you get it? Its goal is to undercut the cost of cable: Basic service that only includes broadcast stations will go for $4.99 a month, and a broadcast/cable package will cost $24.99 a month. A la carte movies and TV episodes are extra. You’ll either buy the box and antenna (for $299, $50 more than TiVo charges for a DVR with one-sixth the capacity) or rent it. Once the service rolls out to more regions–which the company says will happen soon–it’ll be available both at retail stores and through service providers such as medium-sized phone companies and DSL ISPs.

I generally feel like I’m watching maybe five percent of the channels my Comcast cable service gives me–and among the very few that I’m not willing to give up are CNN, MSNBC, and TCM. So Sezmi, which has all those stations, sounds like a plausible alternative–and even if I had to plunk down $299 for the box, I’d make it up pretty quickly in the money I’d save over cable.

Cable and satellite TV subscribers: Are you basically happy, or does Sezmi sound alluring?

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