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Movie JV To Begin Epix Journey On Broadband In May

The Paramount Pictures/MGM/ Lionsgate cable and broadband venture now has a name, epix, and launch dates: May for the broadband portal and October for the linear cable channel.

But will it be a pay service, as originally touted?

Speaking to reporters at the NATPE conference, Mark Greenberg, president of the joint venture, Studio 3 Networks, said operators will be given wide latitude to perhaps launch epix on the digital tier to give access to HD content to a wider viewing pool.

One won't see the channel on lifeline basic, he clarified, because that doesn't fit the business model. But operators will have broad flexibility in placing the channel in a way to boost satisfaction on high-definition content. And he explained the name, ending with the X, is meant to signify cross-platform.

Greenberg had no affiliations to announce to reporters at NATPE. He compared the difficulty of launching the new service to that of the sports service, Big Ten Network. Critics said there was no room for another sports network, adding there was already too much football on TV, but four weeks before its August 2007 launch, the channel had many affiliation agreements in place. He said epix should have agreements to announce in advance on one-month pre-launch, however.

Viewers will be able to view content from the theatrical vaults of the partner studios on a pay-per-view basis before the channel launch, but that is not the long-term business plan. The studios want cable subscribers to view, after they are authenticated as cable subs, content online with DVD-like extras, such as script notes or audition tapes, he said.

The studios will also give their channel an advantageous release window: content from those studios will appear nine months after their theatrical window. Competing pay channels, for instance, offer theatricals 10 to 11 months after their theatrical windows.

At launch, viewers will have immediate access to films including The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Cloverfield, Defiance, Drillbit Taylor, The Duchess, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, and Iron Man. The channel will also have the rights to all 17 remastered James Bond movies, as well as Raiders of the Lost Ark, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Such content, in past years, would have appeared on Showtime Networks, but Paramount and the pay service were unable to reach a licensing agreement. Showtime reportedly wanted to pay less than it has in the past for theatrical releases.

Greenberg was also excited with nuggets from the archives of the participating studios. For instance, epix will offer a 1960s CBS series Ian Fleming series, in which "Jimmy Bond" was a CIA agent. Other Bond-like programming includes Woody Allen's Bond spoof of Casino Royale.

Just as other channels are creating original programming to solidify their brands, epix will also feature original content. Greenberg predicted the channel will introduce one or two new originals in the channel's first years. Originals could be comedy or events, too, he said. But the sports veteran said sports are not likely on the channel.