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Premium JV Movie Service Still Optimistic On Cable Distribution; Online-Only Fate?

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The high-profile premium movie JV from Viacom (NYSE: VIA), Paramount, MGM and Lionsgate, now called Epix, is still optimistic on getting a distribution deal on cable or satellite by fall this year, despite worsening economic conditions. The JV has already announced that it will go ahead with an online/broadband launch in May. So far, the four studios have invested $35 million in it (and more may have to come), and have said that Lionsgate would produce the channel’s first original TV series, a drama about a Nashville music family called “Tough Trade”, reports LAT. More after the jump.

Online was always a part of the equation, ever since the deal was announced last year, and the delays on cable/sat side could just mean cable companies trying to get better terms of carriage. Epix CEO Mark Greenberg said the plan to stream movies means cable/sat/phone companies could lure their customers to upgrade their connection to higher speed and hence higher tariff, if they hadn’t already done so, and that could be a hook for these companies to sign on. The dual offerings — an Internet movie feature and TV channel — are the reason that Epix wants a hefty $1.50 monthly per-subscriber fee from distributors, the LAT story says.

One possible alternative, suggested in the story, is using Netflix (NSDQ: NFLX) as a distribution channel, but even then, would be a small one, relatively speaking. With all the troubles, and secular trends of online movie viewing, and other competitors/programmers planning on it too, will it ever just remain an online channel? Will Showtime have the last laugh after all? My bets are on it…