New Epix Deal With Dish Gives Premium Net A Shot At Critical Mass

Another win for fledgling premium net Epix HD: a deal with Dish Network to offer the service to those of its 14.1 million customers who subscribe to HD. It’s the first national deal for the net, which already has signed up *Charter*, Cox , Verizon FiOS, Mediacom and NCTC. When all of these go live — plans call for May — Epix says it will be available to more than 30 million households. (The actual number is a little murkier since Epix is an HD channel and not all subs are HD subs. I’m still checking on it.) That gives the joint venture of Viacom (NYSE: VIA), Paramount, Lionsgate (NYSE: LGF) and MGM some bragging rights and a good bit of the critical mass it will need to succeed.

Now Epix and its distribution partners have to convert a decent percentage of those households into paying customers for the multi-platform service. By comparison, premium vet HBO and its Cinemax movie channel have more than 41 million U.S. subscribers while Showtime reports 39 million for all of its networks and Starz/Encore reports 17.3 million and 30.7 million subscribers respectively. In addition to their already-established reputations, the other networks also get to market to the vast majority of U.S. multichannel video households. Epix is betting that once it gets the chance to show subscribers what they can get through its network on TV and online through free previews and other marketing tools, it can sign enough subs on to make the expensive gamble worth it.

While Dish is very important to Epix, the deal is only a small part of what Dish is trying to with an announcement today that it is the first to offer distribution of 200 HD channels — and another push for its ViP 922 SlingLoaded DVR that provided access from laptops or mobile. Both make for a nifty distraction from its more pressing DVR issue, the so-far losing battle with TiVo (NSDQ: TIVO) over patents.