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30 September 2009

Epix MegaPlex to offer 3,000 shows online

Epix, the hybrid pay-TV/video-on-demand over broadband movie service in the US, plans a new service called Epix MegaPlex that will offer at least 3,000 shows by next summer.

Epix is working to get pay-TV services to carry it as a channel and offer it free to their broadband subscribers. So far, it has only announced a deal with Verizon for its FiOS pay-TV service, and then only for the basic Epix. Consumers will not be able to subscribe to the service directly, only through their pay-TV company.

The venture is jointly owned by Viacom’s Paramount, Sony-controlled MGM and Lionsgate. The joint venture that’ll operate the service is called Studio 3 Partners. Epix basic will have about 200 titles when it officially launches in October and the plan is to have 500 by year’s end.

The larger MegaPlex library isn’t expected to be available until mid-2010. One reason is that some films have not yet been digitized, some are being re-digitized to improve their resolution and some of the content will be original series, music and comedy specials.

It has signed two independent studios: Roadside Attractions and Samuel Goldwyn Films. Viacom CEO Philippe Dauman said more announcements are due as Epix gets closer to its October launch.

The two Epix services are direct competitors to:
– Click-and-brick retailers that sell and rent DVDs like Netflix, Blockbuster and Coinstar with its thousands of Redbox DVD vending machines. Blockbuster has closed some 200 stores and says it may close as many as 760 others.
– The premium subscription channels like HBO, Starz and Showtime and the pay-per-view channels.
– Companies like Sony, Panasonic, LG and Samsung that make DVD and Blu-ray players whose gear will be needed less as consumers move to the Net to get their entertainment delivered.
– Apple, whose iTunes service and Apple TV are not compatible (at least not yet) with the Epix service.

Winners will be:
– Telcos and cablecos’ broadband service, that will increase revenue as subscribers upgrade their speed.
– Companies that make broadband gear.
– Makers of digital media adapters from companies like Netgear and Linksys that allow users to watch on their TV set the content that’s delivered to their PCs and of Internet-capable TV sets that connect directly to Epix’ Web service. That’s assuming the folks at Epix like chief digital office Emil Rensing are smart enough to allow that as Netflix and Amazon are doing.
– The tri-party Epix companies a) if they make their best stuff available, b) if they produce or bring in third-party “must-see” original shows as they’ve promised and c) if they refrain from charging the pay-TV services too much for the Epix service.

When using the online version, viewers will be able to invite up to four others to watch simultaneously on their own computers or mobile devices. These viewers can carry on a live chat. Epix says the sharing/social networking feature will help promote the service.

The site will offer shows in up to 720p resolution as long as the user has 3 Mbps or greater broadband. Shows are streamed with Adobe Flash. Adobe and Akamai worked together to develop technology that adjusts the video quality to the recipient’s broadband speed. There are six possible speed settings, including the mobile broadband rate of 500 Kbps.
Viewers can also access a movie’s trailer, plot synopsis, list of characters, movie facts and other information.

There’s no reason, of course, that the service can’t be offered by any pay-TV service in the world. That could include the satellite TV services like DirecTV, DISH or BSkyB, whose subscribers have broadband even though it’s from a phone or cable TV service.

Epix appears, on paper at least, to have high standards for video and content quality, both of which should serve it well.