MediaFile

Epix nears launch date — more distribution deals coming?

Suddenly, after limited news over the past year, Epix has been very much the talk of the town in recent days. A number of publications, including Reuters, have picked up on some announcements out of the pay TV site jointly owned by Paramount, Lions Gate, and MGM.

The key bit of news, of course, was the announcement that it had reached its first distribution deal, with Verizon. Chief Executive Mark Greenberg suggested to us that other deals should be coming soon — that he is talking to everybody and “some are further along than others.”

This is key, in the eyes of Wall Street. Distribution deals are always a bit tricky, and even tougher in the current economic environment. But analysts want to see Epix sign a deal with one of the big players — one with a ton of subscribers. We’re talking about Cablevision, Comcast, Time Warner Cable, DirecTV. So far the reaction has been a little lukewarm from some of the big boys but that could just be a negotiating tactic.

That aside, there have been some other relatively significant bit of news. In case you missed…

    Epix will be launching in October, though hasn’t announced an official date. Sounds like they could be planning some sort of “event” or “special” to kickstart the channel
    The epixHD.com web site, which we’ve seen, is going to launch earlier.  It’s currently in beta, and looks good. Has some of the feel of Hulu.com
    Epix, which will be home to some 15,000 films, including titles like “Iron Man” and “Star Trek” and the James Bond movies, just signed a content deal with independently owned Samuel Goldwyn Films.
    Other content deals will likely follow, but Greenberg seemed doubtful that any full, equity partners would be brought on board.
    While most pay-TV channels air films about 12 months after the hit the theaters, Epix is planning to roll its out in 9-1/2 months (helps to be owned by the studios).

Still, none of this matters all the much without distribution. We’ll keep you posted.

Sun Valley: Reuters returns to Idaho

Nearly every powerful media and technology executive you can think of will be camping out in the idyllic and affluent ski resort town of Sun Valley this week. They have aimed their Gulfstreams squarely at Idaho so they can show up at the 27th edition of Allen & Co’s media and technology conference, which investment banker Herb Allen holds every summer here.

That means nearly every media reporter you can think of will be hovering among the hedgerows and parking lots (and in the bar, naturally), waiting to get a few precious seconds with super-wattage movie executives from DreamWorks’s Jeffrey Katzenberg to Paramount’s Brad Grey, technology heavyweights such as Michael Dell and Bill Gates, media kingpins Philippe Dauman and Rupert Murdoch and fresh-faced startup darlings like Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, Twitter’s Evan Williams and Ning’s Gina Bianchini.

Reuters, of course, will be among the press crew at the scene. Reporters Yinka Adegoke and Alexei Oreskovic will show up, as will I, and photographer Rick Wilking will be shooting the pictures that at Sun Valley often tell a more eloquent story than any text dispatch can.

Viacom has much riding on “Star Trek”

How big is “Star Trek” for Viacom?

The movie dominated the box office this weekend, taking in an estimated $72.5 million in North American ticket sales. Combined with $4 million grossed from Thursday evening’s preview screenings, “Star Trek” tallied $76.5 million in U.S. and Canadian receipts through Sunday.

Paramount could use a big hit. Last year, as the economy worsened, Paramount scaled by its film releases and cut costs by about $50 million. And this year’s first quarter didn’t offer a lot of cheer: Viacom’s entire filmed entertainment division posted an operating loss of $123 million.

“The weak economy continued to dampen the home entertainment market and Paramount was not immune to the impact,” Chief Executive Philippe Dauman said on the quarterly conference call. That put it mildly.

It’s budget cutting time

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In the media world, it looks like it’s time for a trim. Whether that’s jobs, travel expenses, or anything else, budgets are coming down… With the economy in the sick ward, what did we expect?

Yahoo is among those expected to outline ways to cut expenses, including further job cuts, a source tells Reuters. The announcement will likely come when it reports quarterly results on Tuesday:

The Internet company will discuss the scale and timing of the future layoffs, but specific details on the exact jobs to be eliminated will not be disclosed, the source said.

Ask.com goes for revamp — but will it work?

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Barry Diller is not backing down. The media mogul’s IAC/InterActiveCorp has once again relaunched its Ask.com search engine — aiming to increase its share of the lucrative Web search market.

Ask.com Chief Executive Officer Jim Safka told Reuters in an interview  that the revamped site — with its faster, better searches — would keep customers coming back for more. He said early tests showed a 16 percent increase in the rate at which customers returned to the search page.

The problem is that Ask.com has a long way to go. Google is the dominant Web search service in the United States, growing in August to more than 63 percent market share, according comScore, a Web audience measurement firm. Yahoo was second with a fall to 19.6 percent share and Microsoft dipped to 8.3 percent. Ask was fourth, growing slightly to 4.8 percent.

It’s 8:00 p.m. — do you know where your TV is?

television-set.jpgThe new prime-time TV season is starting and that means all eyes are on Nielsen ratings. While that’s the case every fall, this one is a bit different — the industry is recovering from a writers’ strike that threw the 2007-08 season into disarray.

AdAge points out, for instance, that serialized dramas already appear to be having trouble getting their footing back. It says two NBC dramas, “Chuck” and “Life,” both opened the season to sharply lower viewing numbers for the 18-49 demographic than they did a year ago.

Both are indicative of how many serialized dramas lost media momentum last year due to the strike, and how hard it will be to rebuild it without the buildup of free media any new show receives