Why doesn’t pay channel Epix switch to an over-the-top model?

On Tuesday, executives for Epix were definitely at a lunchtime presentation at Los Angeles’ SLS Hotel — I’m sure of it, I saw them — with Marvel comics impressario Stan Lee and boxing legend Sugar Ray Leonard in tow, showing off a range of upcoming blockbuster superhero movies, original comedy shows and championship boxing events, as well as updated TV Everywhere apps.

That for sure happened. But the broader TV viewing populace will have to take my word for it. The pay-TV channel, jointly launched more than two years ago by entertainment companies Viacom (s VIA), Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and Lionsgate (s LGF), isn’t carried by three of the top four cable/satellite/telco operators in the U.S., It remains unavailable in nearly two-thirds of multichannel homes. Currently, among the top-10 multichannel operators, only Dish Network, Verizon FiOS, Charter Communications and Cox Communications carry Epix. Of the nearly 30 million multichannel homes Epix is in, only about 10 million pay around $10 a month to receive the premium channel.

Carriage talks are seemingly stalled with top multichannel operators Comcast, DirecTV and Time Warner Cable, which collectively account for the bulk — about 55 percent — of multichannel homes in the U.S.

After Tuesday’s presentation, Epix CEO Mark Greenberg told us that the five-year, $1 billion content deal Epix signed with Netflix back in August 2010 fills in the large gaps in the channel’s carriage. The deal has also enabled Epix — which operates with a relatively lean staff of only around 85 employees — to reach profitability, or come close to it, fairly early in its lifespan.

But for most people paying a monthly cable, satellite or telco TV bill, the only way they’re going to access Epix programming is through a $7.99 Netflix subscription, sifting through a Netflix-branded interface. Netflix, meanwhile, doesn’t get Epix movies and originals until 90 days after they’ve appeared on the channel.

So, given that Epix is a premium cable network coming of age in the TV Everywhere era, why not just take the programming service over-the-top and leave the complexity of multichannel carriage behind? At Tuesday’s presentation, for example, Greenberg (pictured above with Leonard) took great pride in showing off Epix’s Xbox Live authenticated player app, which lets the channel’s subscribers access its programming on demand through an elegant voice- and gesture-controlled Xbox Kinect interface. Why not give everyone with an Xbox Live subscription access to that app? With Epix apps also available for iOS and Android mobile devices, not to mention OTT boxes like Roku, it could have immediate parity with HBO Go and Showtime Anytime.

Of course, with HBO getting much of its nearly $1.2 billion in annual earnings through multichannel affiliate fees, excluding the cable/satellite/telco business is still not part of the business plan for Epix, which seems forever hopeful that its offering will catch on, and its remaining major carriage agreements will eventually get done.

“It’s unrealistic to say that after just 30 months on the air, we’re going to be everywhere,” Greenberg said.

Competitively priced, Epix would seem to have the programming goods to compete right now with the pay-cable leaders, Time Warner Inc.-owned HBO and CBS Corp.-owned Showtime.

On Tuesday, the fledgling network showed off original shows featuring talent such as comedian Jim Norton, actor William Shatner and genre-film producing legend Roger Corman. These compliment a movie lineup of nearly 3,000 titles, including Paramount-distributed hits Captain America, Transformers and Thor, not to mention a recently bolstered Lionsgate slate that will soon see mega-hit Hunger Games hit the pay TV window.