Epix, the new pay TV channel that’s a joint venture between Paramount, Lionsgate and MGM, is launching a private beta of its online film distribution on Monday. Online distribution from day one on a premium channel? It’s a whole new ballgame.
Epix, meant to disintermediate pay networks like Showtime, will be sold for a low license fee so that access to the channel will be included in your basic tier of HD service instead of for an extra fee. And its site will be available at no extra charge, commercial-free, to cable subscribers with web authentication. Epix’s distribution partners (and their authentication models and their timeline for release) have not yet been announced.
Epix has about 100 films live in the private beta today, including new movies like Iron Man. It will also have original series and airings of concerts and comedy shows. It runs an adaptive bitrate player through Flash Media Streaming Server 3.5 and Akamai that streams all the way up to 720p at 3 megabits.
Social TV startup ClipSync built the Epix player, which means it will include ClipSync’s flagship “watch with friends” feature. In this case, you can schedule a viewing with up to four people. There will also be public activity feeds, user ratings and other social features. Epix Chief Digital Officer Emil Rensing, also a founder of Next New Networks, said Facebook and Twitter integration are likely coming as well. So this does sound quite a bit more savvy than past joint studio digital projects like Movielink.
From what we’ve seen of the very basic site, streaming looks nice and plays well. The navigation may be a bit innovative for its own good; it seems you can only browse through all the movies using a “3D wall” visual interface from Cooliris (see above). Some of us don’t mind a simple text list! But movie pages are nicely built out already, with content like cast and crew, trivia, and still images.
Members of the general public will be able to register for rolling access to the beta starting Monday. Epix has raised an undisclosed amount of funding from its three parents, and is run as part of MTV Networks with its own team.
If only as one of the first glimpses into how premium content will be distributed to paying customers online, it’s cool to see what Epix is doing. But given that this is a project of only three studios, it does signal a future in which the videos we want to see online are spread across many more channels and access points than ever before.