Multiplatform Epix Raises The Curtain

Multiplatform movie service Epix will debut thisweek, with the hopes that cable operators will eventually come along for the ride.

Currently, only Verizon Communications’ FiOS TV is set to distribute the service — a joint venture of Paramount Pictures, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and Lionsgate — but the network is in talks with most of the major MSOs and is hopeful of securing deals in the near future, according to Epix CEO Mark Greenberg. That’s despite the fact that executives from Cablevision Systems, Comcast and DirecTV have previously made it clear that they have no interest in the channel.

“We feel pretty good that those discussions are going to come to fruition, but I’m not going to let the launch date dictate where we end up in the negotiations,” he said. “Our view on this is, it’s really a long run.”

Greenberg wouldn’t disclose license rates for the network, which officially launches Oct. 30, but says operators will have flexibility in pricing and structuring an output agreement — which could include various levels of packaging the service’s multiplatform offerings.

“We think there are better ways of packaging tiers of services to find ways for our partners to drive more revenue,” he said. “We’ve been rolling up our sleeves and trying to find a more creative way to package and create distribution because it’s a different era for premium as we move forward. We’re trying to find ways to support a business model that expands their footprint.”

It’s unclear how Verizon will position Epix to subscribers other than to say it will be a premium channel. A Verizon spokesman would not reveal specific plans, including when the network will actually be made available to its subscribers.

In an Oct. 12 posting on the company’s “Verizon at Home” blog, the telco said Epix would be available “with a premium subscription that includes SD and HD channels, VOD and, eventually, online content.”

Along with the linear premium channel, the service will provide a VOD offering as well as a robust broadband-based website, which is expected to offer more than 3,000 movie titles in high definition. In addition, a robust offering of behind-the-scenes video content and other movie information will be available to the public, according to Emil Rensing, chief digital officer for the company.

In addition, subscribers authenticated to access the movies will be able to invite — through such social networking sites as Twitter and Facebook — up to four other people to simultaneously watch a particular movie. Each invitee’s avatar appears on the page, made to replicate a movie theater setting, and the group can chat amongst themselves throughout the movie.

Epix executive Nora Ryan said mining the new social-media space through the site opens up opportunities to better target market the service’s programming directly to fans. In one campaign, she said, Epix invited several users of Madonna online fan sites to view an early screening of the pop star’s concert through the site’s screening rooms. As word-of-mouth about the service spreads, Ryan said, the company will provide free, temporary passes to try it out.

Overall, Epix is considering giving away a significant number of free passes to consumers and fan groups to access the site over the debut weekend.

“Getting into this new platform changes the face of marketing,” Ryan said. “We’re able to reach out to go find the fans of the programming that we have.”

R. Thomas Umstead

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.