Epix to launch on Friday light on distribution

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Movie channel Epix, owned by Paramount, Lions Gate and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, debuts Oct 30 boasting exclusive content like a Madonna concert special, but it has fallen short of achieving wide distribution.

To date, the new channel has just one distribution pact with Verizon Communications Inc’s FiOS TV service, making it available to only 2.5 million households.

Epix in recent months has said it was in advanced talks with numerous distribution partners and expected the company to announce additional distribution deals before and after the premium movie channel launched in October.

But the company on Wednesday said no additional deals had yet been closed.

“The negotiations are continuing. We’re in serious discussion and dialog on a variety of issues and we’re very confident that we’ll get it done. We’re not going to be captive to an artificial deadline,” said Epix Chief Executive Mark Greenberg when was asked if additional distribution deals would be in place by Friday’s launch.

“The complexity of our negotiations not only deal with packaging and pricing, but equally important is the use of technology like the Internet and mobile devices which deliver content in a way a whole new generation of users want,” he said.

Greenberg declined to comment on which companies Epix was speaking with. However, sources with knowledge of the situation, who declined to be identified because talks were ongoing, have said Epix is in advanced discussions with EchoStar Corp’s Dish Network, which reaches more than 13 million satellite television households.

Epix was formed in 2008 after Viacom Inc’s Paramount, Lions Gate and MGM parted ways with CBS Corp’s Showtime after Showtime sought to cut the license fees it paid the studios, which totaled about $300 million in 2008.

Analysts are watching Epix to see if the new channel will be able to offset the loss of revenue from Showtime that Paramount, Lions Gate and MGM have experienced. The analysts have said the channel needs more distribution to attain that goal.

Epix hopes to compete with Time Warner Inc’s HBO and Showtime in the premium movie channel business.

Along with its linear premium channel, Epix will provide video on demand as well as a broadband-based website, which is expected to offer more than 3,000 movie titles in high definition.

Upon launch, EPIX said it will include the worldwide television and online premieres of an exclusive two-hour special of Madonna’s “Sticky & Sweet: Live from Buenos Aires.”

Customers will also see the hit film “Iron Man,” an exclusive comedy special “Eddie Izzard: Live From Wembley” and more than 15 world television movie premieres including “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” “Madea Goes to Jail,” “Pink Panther 2,” “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.”

Editing by Steve Orlofsky