MGM strides into HD TV arena on DirecTV

Sloan to put film library to use on DirecTV channel

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MGM chairman and CEO Harry Sloan is finally putting his channel-launching skills to use stateside.

The studio is introducing a high-definition cable channel on DirecTV in the fall stocked with its extensive library of film titles. MGM HD has long been expected from the company, which has been criticized for putting its Lion-labeled brand to use on cable everywhere but in the U.S., and even more so from Sloan, who came to MGM nearly two years ago after turning SBS into a multichannel-spawning giant in Europe.

"This has been a longtime ambition for the company to launch a domestic channel," said Douglas Lee, exec VP worldwide digital media at MGM, who will oversee MGM HD with Jim Packer, co-president of worldwide television. "Harry is such a channels expert, this was one thing he wanted to get done since he started at MGM."

MGM is hoping an ad-supported channel will aid the company in its long-stated goal of doubling MGM's valuation to $10 billion within seven years.

Getting DirecTV as its first carriage partner was somewhat surprising given that the only bigger distributor in the U.S., Comcast, has a 20% stake in MGM. However, MGM expects to add more reach via Comcast and is in discussions with all top operators.

MGM HD will launch as part of an upcoming HD tier on DirecTV, which will be adding 100 HD channels by year's end through new satellite technology.

While the channel initially will subsist strictly of MGM library product, the plan is to eventually round out the schedule with original programming. MGM HD also will be a promotional platform for upcoming MGM releases, with behind-the-scenes and red-carpet content likely in the mix.

Other studios have gone the HD route including NBC Universal, which launched Universal HD with a heavy reliance on its own library.

MGM already has an active presence in the channel business overseas with 20 different feeds, including MGM HD in Poland. By leaving the U.S. for last, MGM follows in the footsteps of National Geographic, which experimented with programming around the world before settling on a model in the U.S.

MGM has been knocked over the years for failing to capitalize on its film library. Time Warner's top-rated TNT launched largely on the strength of buying MGM's pre-1986 library. The company previously had a 20% stake in Cablevision's Rainbow Media, but sold it back for $500 million in 2003.

With lots of MGM films already tied up in licensing agreements at the likes of TNT and Spike TV, the company will have to be deft about getting access to its own library.

"MGM is better at managing its windows in its library than any of the major studios," Lee said. "I think we're very well positioned to exploit the library."