Epix, Dish, others look to reach deal soon

Movie channel is available only to 2.5 mil households

NEW YORK -- Epix, a new movie channel owned by three Hollywood studios, is talking with Dish Network Corp. and other carriers, and expects to secure another distribution deal by early 2010, the premium channel's top executive said Thursday.

Mark Greenberg, president and chief executive of Epix, told Reuters he is "pretty confident" that another deal will soon be in place, possibly within the next several weeks.

"If a deal slides from this year to early next year that's fine by us. It's more important to get the deals right because the deals last for three to five years," he added.

Epix was launched Oct. 30 as a joint venture of Paramount Pictures, Lions Gate Entertainment Corp. and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, with just one distribution partner, Verizon Communications' FiOS TV service. That means it is available only to about 2.5 million households.

Greenberg said Epix is having "meaningful discussions" with Dish Network and other carriers, mainly on the satellite and cable side of the business.

He said the economy was partly to blame for delay in striking deals. "Certainly the recession has an impact because people are being careful how they spend money," he said.

This week, Glenn Britt, chairman, president and CEO of Time Warner Cable, said his company, which has just under 14 million subscribers, was not close to a deal to carry Epix. "They haven't come up with an economic formula that makes sense so far," he said.

Another major distributor, Comcast Corp. previously said it was not interested in carrying Epix. Greenberg said he does not know whether that stance will change as a result of Comcast's deal to take a majority stake in NBC Universal.

With MGM, one of Epix's owners, widely seen as a possible acquisition target, Greenberg said that even if the studio changes hands it will have no immediate impact on MGM's output of movies to Epix.

"Our output deals are done for several years for new release, so all the 'Bond' movies, any 'Pink Panther,' the things that are in development ... all of those are already committed to Epix, anything released with the MGM/UA label," Greenberg said.

In conjunction with its TV channel, Epix introduced a website at EpixHD.com that for now can be accessed only by Verizon FiOS subscribers, who log in with a special code.

The Web site has movie titles from the libraries of Epix's three studio parent companies, which users can watch and also invite friends to view remotely with them, from their own computers.

The three studios created Epix after pay TV network Showtime said last year it wanted to cut fees it was paying the studios to show their movies. Showtime was paying about $300 million in 2008.