CEO: Epix is on track despite lack of carriage

New premium TV, broadband service launching in 2009

LAS VEGAS -- Epix chief Mark Greenberg on Tuesday touted what he described as the unique business model behind the new premium TV channel and broadband service from Viacom and its Paramount Pictures unit, Lionsgate and MGM.

Greenberg, president of Studio 3 Networks, which runs the service, brushed aside concerns that the service has yet to ink any carriage deals nearly nine months after being announced. He likened the process to that of sports channel Big Ten Network, pointing out that Big Ten didn't have distribution deals until shortly before launch despite having been announced about a year before those deals were signed.

"We're only guilty of announcing this too early, but we had an obligation to because we're a public company," Greenberg said, adding that execs are in discussions with multiple cable operators. "Eight months in, this is exactly where I thought we'd be."

Cable operators also can choose to launch the service on a digital tier. The move would allow consumers broader access to the service's high-def content, Greenberg said, adding that there also will be a standard-definition signal as well as separate East and West Coast feeds.

Epix -- whose name has been rumored for weeks but was only officially confirmed Tuesday -- will consist of a linear TV channel targeted to launch in October as well as a broadband site where subscribers can watch movies on-demand. The site is likely to launch in May, Greenberg said, but added that there won't be any marketing or promotion tied to its bow or an active push to sign up subscribers at that time.

Studio 3 will work with its cable partners to determine pricing, but subscribers to the linear channel will also have access to the broadband site.

The channel's lineup will consist primarily of movies from Paramount, Lionsgate and MGM, but execs also are planning to acquire titles from outside companies. Movies that will be available initially include "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull," Iron Man," "Cloverfield" and 17 remastered James Bond films. Greenberg said the window for all movies Epix airs will be shorter than is typical for pay TV: nine months after theatrical vs. 11-12 months.

Other content at launch will include a 1950s black-and-white series about a CIA agent named "Jimmy Bond," originally adapted by CBS from Ian Fleming's "Casino Royale."

Also on the slate will be original series and live event programming. Greenberg said one original series pilot should be ready to air at launch, with the goal of greenlighting a series for a 2010 premiere. Execs may choose to forgo the traditional multiyear series model and instead focus on multipart series with a definite end, a la HBO's "John Adams."

Also in 2010, Greenberg is hoping to add live events including concerts and comedy. Asked if that might include sports programming as well, Greenberg, a former Showtime exec who oversaw that network's boxing coverage, said he's not ruling it out but doesn't consider it a necessity.

Epix is targeting a younger audience, the adults 18-34 demo. He said the broadband component should play a big role in drawing those subscribers, including a component whereby viewers can simultaneously watch the same movie from their own homes and discuss it in a chat room.