EXCLUSIVE: This is how Epix is launching as it bills itself as the “next generation” premium entertainment service from Viacom, Paramount Pictures, Lionsgate, MGM/UA, Samuel Goldwyn Films, and Roadside Attractions. For the more than one million people invited to experience the free weekend previews starting today, it’s available on a first come, first serve basis through Thanksgiving weekend. I’ve learned that EPIX is reaching out to U.S. consumers about the free weekend preview through social media, online fan sites, and traditional advertising on television, radio, print, online and out-of-home to invite them to experience EpixHD.com. To participate, online visitors to EPIX’s website can register for free online 3-day weekend-long passes giving them complete access to the launch programming. The lineup includes Madonna’s Sticky & Sweet: Live from Buenos Aires, Marvel/Paramount’s Iron Man, and the exclusive comedy special Eddie Izzard: Live From Wembley. The EPIX launch weekend will also debut more than 15 world television premieres with a combined worldwide box office value of more than $2.5 billion — including Paramount’s The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Lionsgate’s Tyler Perry hit Madea Goes to Jail, MGM’s Pink Panther 2, Paramount/Lucasfilm’s Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, and Paramount’s Cloverfield. Also offered are more than 150 films and additional programming in an online on-demand format. To lure younger viewers, EpixHD.com has some technological tricks to showcase, like an online screening room feature which enables consumers to invite up to four friends anywhere to watch movies while they chat online in real time.
That’s the good news. Here’s the bad news. Epix has signed a carriage deal with Verizon FIOS. But there have not been any announcements of more since Viacom president/CEO Philippe Dauman promised additional distributors on July 28 during a Viacom conference call with Wall Street analysts. DirecTV, Comcast, and Cablevision have announced that they will not carry the channel. And still fence-sitting are other major providers Time Warner Cable, Cox Communications, Cable One, Charter Communications, AT&T U-Verse, and Dish Network. Daumann could not make good on his pledge that “by the time we launch we expect to announce some additional distribution arrangements and then we will continue beyond that”.
The general consensus is that this is a lousy time to launch a premium cable channel in a business long dominated by HBO, Showtime and Starz. But the announcement of the formation of Epix came on April 21, 2008 after negotiations on new film output deals between Showtime (owned by CBS corp, which used to be part of Viacom) and Paramount Pictures, MGM and Lionsgate Entertainment broke down. Showtime on agreeing to compensation for providing the channel with movies from those studios. The three studios were some of Showtime’s major film suppliers, and Paramount has had an output deal with Showtime since 1997 but it expired in January 2008, while MGM and Lionsgate’s contracts expired at the end of 2008. The sticking point was that Showtime, like all the pay channels, was valuing its own original TV series more than films. So the move by the studios to go it alone caught not just the TV industry but especially CBS Corp chief Les Moonves (who controls Showtime) by surprise. This wasn’t a mere negotiation tactic: this was a declaration of war.