Epix recently marked its 10th year in operation with a great deal of momentum in terms of distribution as well as original series development. The MGM-owned premium network’s recent carriage deal with AT&T and an expanded renewal with Comcast — which includes the Dec. 12 launch of a newly launched suite of ScreenPix channels — will provide Epix with increased exposure in a very crowded premium cable marketplace.
As for originals, Epix has looked to compete with HBO, Showtime and Starz with shows such as Forest Whitaker drama Godfather of Harlem; the recently renewed Pennyworth, the origin story of Bruce Wayne’s butler, Alfred Pennyworth; and drama series Belgravia, set to debut in 2020.
CEO Michael Wright, the former Turner programmer and Amblin Partners chief who joined Epix in 2017, spoke with Multichannel News about the network’s journey and about the multiplatform future it is charting. Here are edited highlights.
MCN: A decade into its existence, has Epix effectively laid the foundation for future success?
Michael Wright: I think you’re always trying to get to the next level, so wherever you are you’re always looking at the next step. I think the progress of the network has been incredible. When we got here two years ago, the network was at 40 million homes; today, we’re available in more than 120 million homes, so our distribution footprint has grown dramatically. We’ve added Comcast, DirecTV, Roku, Amazon and our own direct-to-consumer platform in Epix Now. When you make the network available to more people, more people sign up. Without getting into the numbers, I can tell you that the growth has been exponential, and certainly the addition of the Comcast packaging has been enormous for us. It’s really an affirmation of that fact that Epix is here to play. We have a fantastic lineup of movies and really robust originals.
MCN: How does your Comcast deal and its decision to potentially drop Starz and Encore change the landscape?
MW: Comcast is the biggest distributor out there, so to have a company as fantastic and forward-thinking as Comcast seek us out and say “we like your product and we want to package you” is an incredible affirmation of the network itself, but also the business plan. Our goal is to build something qualitatively competitive that is fairly priced and make ourselves as undeniable as we can. As far as the premium space goes, I think we are proud members of that club, and we enthusiastically identify as the underdog. HBO, Showtime and Starz have been here longer and are great platforms, and we’re happy to be part of that club and to have audiences noticing us now.
MCN: How much has Epix’s renewed focus on original content played in its distribution growth?
MW: In the last year alone you look at Perpetual Grace, with Sir Ben Kinglsey, our docuseries Punk, which has won all kinds of awards, as well as Pennyworth and Godfather of Harlem. As each one of these shows has premiered, it has brought new eyeballs to the network, it has grown subscriptions and grown awareness throughout the network. That awareness is vital to your success in an incredibly competitive landscape. We’re aiming for that audience that used to go to the movies more than they do today. Those audiences are looking for sophisticated narratives that reflect characters that are relevant and delivered in an entertaining package. I feel good about the product that we’re putting out there right now, and people are finding it. We also understand the “curation vs. scale” challenge. We’re very aware we’re competing with big monolithic platforms for viewers’ interest. We know that means every show we put on has to be meaningful and attract a specific, passionate audience. Thoughtful curation, delivered to a discerning audience looking for cinematic television at a value price, is our lane.
MCN: How big a role do theatricals play with regard to viewer appeal?
MW: You need both. Originals will help you break through the clutter because of the press around them as well as the newness and exclusivity surrounding them. Once people come to your platform, they want to see value and a bang for their buck, so with Epix you not only get the great originals but you also get an incredibly robust lineup of movies.
MCN: What’s the game plan for Epix over the next few years as the industry continues to evolve?
MW: To keep our foot on the gas pedal and take all of our momentum, double down on it and grow in two lanes. We are as excited as everyone else about the digital platform world where we’ve made deals with Amazon, Roku, Apple. We’re out there and we’re positioned to grow with them. We also have our direct-to-consumer platform which we’ve built, and it’s growing rapidly. But we’re also still focused on the MVPD space. HBO, Starz and Showtime have turned to other platforms to grow their business, but we actually have a lot of room still to grow within the traditional MVPD platform.
R. Thomas Umstead serves as senior content producer, programming for Multichannel News, Broadcasting + Cable and Next TV. During his more than 30-year career as a print and online journalist, Umstead has written articles on a variety of subjects ranging from TV technology, marketing and sports production to content distribution and development. He has provided expert commentary on television issues and trends for such TV, print, radio and streaming outlets as Fox News, CNBC, the Today show, USA Today, The New York Times and National Public Radio. Umstead has also filmed, produced and edited more than 100 original video interviews, profiles and news reports featuring key cable television executives as well as entertainers and celebrity personalities.
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