Premium cable network Epix launched nearly two years ago with what was then a unique value proposition: In addition to its linear channel and video-on-demand assets, it also would make its large library of movies from partner studios Paramount, MGM and Lionsgate available for streaming on the Internet. But now that everyone’s on the TV Everywhere bandwagon and streaming content on the web, Epix continues to innovate, adding original programming and making its videos available on a number of new devices.
The service first became available in late 2009 with a live cable channel and a corresponding website, EpixHD.com, which put more than 3,000 film titles from library partners available online. Since launch, it has expanded both its number of distribution partners and number of subscribers, thanks in part to that value proposition. The channel is now available through Dish Network, Verizon FiOS, Cox, Charter, Mediacom, Suddenlink and the National Cable and Telecommunications Cooperative (NCTC). Together, those distributors have more than 30 million subscribers, of which Epix has managed to sign up 9 million to its network.
Of course, the idea of adding an online component to its linear cable channel has caught on with much of the rest of the cable industry, which is making a big push behind TV Everywhere. That initiative will allows viewers to watch streaming video from their favorite networks online, so long as they’ve logged in with their cable ID. HBO, for instance, is making all of its original programming available to authenticated subscribers, as well as whatever movies it has the rights for at any given time.
No longer the only provider in town with a linear cable and streaming offering, Epix has set out to differentiate itself in other ways. One way it’s doing that is by aggressively building apps for new devices, so subscribers can access its streaming content through connected TVs, Blu-ray players, streaming set-top boxes and mobile devices. The network is already available on more than 100 different devices, and is looking to add more. It already has apps available on Google TV-powered devices, as well as Samsung TV, Roku set-top boxes, the RIM Playbook and Android mobile phones and tablets. And, of course, it’s working to get an iPad app out, which we’ve been told is “coming soon.”
Another way Epix seeks to differentiate itself is with content you can’t find anywhere else. Now that the network has its library online, Epix Head of Digital Emil Rensing told me in a phone interview that the next step in the company’s evolution is in creating more of its own exclusive content. That means both long-form specials and documentaries, as well as bonus programming which it can place alongside films in its streaming library.
So far, its long-form original programming has mostly been comedy specials and concerts, including Louis C.K.’s Hilarious or Bon Jovi’s The Circle Tour. But it has also obtained a few documentaries, including William Shatner’s The Captains.
Those originals have actually proven to be extremely popular amongst Epix users. The Craig Ferguson comedy special Does This Need To Be Said and exclusive documentary Lindsey Vonn: In the Moment are among the site’s top movies, alongside major studio content like Iron Man 2, Kick-Ass, Shutter Island, G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra and Star Trek.
Epix is also working to add videos that provide additional value to the films that come from the studios. That includes creating packages of content based on studio stills and additional footage that might not have made it into films. It’s also building more behind-the-scenes type content for newer films released by its studio partners, working with them during filming and in the run-up to release to get interviews with the cast and crew to provide more context.
Finally, Epix is also leveraging partnerships to bring in interesting original video content. For instance, check out this video from IndyMogul’s Eric Beck on how to recreate the Iron Man chest piece for really, really cheap. Rensing expects more of these types of videos in the future.
It’s difficult to launch any new cable network — just ask Oprah how her venture is doing — but it’s incredibly hard to launch a new network that cable subscribers have to pay for, especially when you’re going up against HBO and Showtime. That said, Epix seems to be doing well so far. The network is already profitable, due in part to a deal it did with Netflix to make its content available as part of that subscription streaming service. According to CEO Mark Greenberg, that hasn’t stopped Epix from signing up more traditional distributors, and the network is in talks to add even more pay TV partners in the near future.