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 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
    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.

Live Blogging from Sun Valley (Day 2)

Reuters reporters Robert MacMillan, Yinka Adegoke and Alexei Oreskovic will be sending live updates from the Sun Valley gathering. Read their updates below or follow us on Twitter.

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.

Sumner Redstone cool with Dauman; theaters hot with buyers

As we previously noted in MediaFile the main takeway from Viacom’s earnings call was that advertising is awful, but it’s not getting worse. But there were a few other highlights, too, so here’s a time-saving rundown:

Sumner Redstone is still a gigantic fan of Philippe Dauman. Even after 12-months in which Viacom’s stock price has dropped 50 percent, Redstone introduced Dauman as “my great friend” and “the greatest CEO of all” while crediting him “capable and insightful leadership.”

National Amusement’s movie theaters are a hot ticket. Redstone said the sale of theaters in the United Kingdom and United States has attracted “substantial preliminary interest” from buyers. “”We are very encouraged by both the number of interested bidders and particularly the prices being discussed.”

Dear advertiser, please come home

Nobody likes to be wrong, including the people who run media companies. That’s why you haven’t heard them say things like, “We think the advertising market is recovering!” At a time when every day might bring a fresh descent into financial hell as financial companies and automakers totter, media companies reeling from ad revenue declines are hesitant to say that they’ve hit a bottom.

But consider some of the comments that Viacom executives made during their conference call with Wall Street bean counters this morning to discuss quarterly financial results. Here they are as they appeared in the alerts we sent out on the wire:


That sounds suspiciously like optimism. It also fits in with some of the comments that we’ve heard from newspaper publishers such as USA Today owner Gannett Co Inc. Magazine publisher and local TV station owner Meredith Corp had similar thoughts about the ad outlook.

Redstone swears by fish, vodka…and married women

Media mogul Sumner Redstone credits fish, Grey Goose vodka and plain hard work for giving him “the health of a 20-year-old.” 

The octogenarian head of CBS Corp and Viacom Inc told CNN talk show host Larry King at the Milken Institute Global Conference that he made a “miracle recovery” from prostate cancer due to his “highly disciplined” consumption of “every antioxidant known to man” even when he doesn’t feel like it.

“My doctor says that he’s seen a lot of men slow down the aging process but I am the only man who has reversed it,” Redstone crowed at the hour-long interview that packed two conference rooms at the Milken Institute Global Conference on Wednesday in Beverly Hills.

Microsoft, Gates master the art of product placement

There is no better way to learn about the art of product placement than to learn from the masters. Today, that means Microsoft Corp and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, both of which were the subject of articles about how they’re delivering their messages like little pills wrapped in the sugar coating of the entertainment you consume.

Ad Age:

Can Microsoft market its way out of the search basement? Probably not, but it’s going to try, entrusting [ad] agency JWT to craft a campaign for its new search engine, alternately dubbed Kumo or Project Kiev or Live Search, depending on who’s talking about it. … The service is being tested and is expected to make its debut in the summer. … Industry executives expect JWT, part of WPP, to unveil an estimated $80 million to $100 million push for the new search engine in June, with online, TV, print and radio executions. Microsoft spent $361 million on U.S. measured media in 2008, the bulk of it devoted to brand advertising and smaller chunks to other Microsoft brands such as Xbox and MSN, according to TNS Media Intelligence data.

The New York Times:

The huge [Gates] foundation, brimming with billions of dollars from Mr. Gates and Warren Buffett, is well known for its myriad projects around the world to promote health and education. It is less well known as a behind-the-scenes influencer of public attitudes toward these issues by helping to shape story lines and insert messages into popular entertainment like the television shows “ER,” “Law & Order: SVU” and “Private Practice.” The foundation’s messages on H.I.V. prevention, surgical safety and the spread of infectious diseases have found their way into these shows.

A $1 bln suit won’t stop Google from getting its Dauman

The big highlight of the McGraw-Hill media summit in New York when NBC Universal’s Jeff Zucker took a couple of shots at Jon Stewart.

But our favorite story came at the end of the day, courtesy of Viacom top dog Philippe Dauman. The background to this story was a question about Viacom’s $1 billion lawsuit against Google’s YouTube  over copyright infringement.

That led Dauman to mention that his son, Phillippe Dauman Jr., happens to work at… wait for it… Google.

Who’s ready for a little dealmaking?

******Current valuations for media companies must have opened up some opportunities for dealmaking, right? It’s hard to argue that things aren’t getting cheap.******Well, two of the industry’s top dogs, Viacom CEO Philippe Dauman and Time Warner CEO Jeff Bewkes, seem to have differing views on whether the media meltdown makes for a good time to wheel and deal. Both were asked about it during presentations at the Deutsche Bank Annual Media & Telecommunications Conference.******Dauman said Viacom, owner of MTV and Paramount, wants to focus on internal growth, mentioning Nickelodeon’s international expansion and the Colors television channel in India. “I continue to believe that we are better off investing in growing our own brands than spending significant money on acquisitions,” he said “I don’t see our using huge dollars to make an acquisition anytime soon.”******Bewkes left the door slightly more ajar. He said a lot of the assets or companies out there — “you can fill in the usual suspects” — have previously been way overpriced. “Up ’til now, those things have been around at prices that just don’t provide a return,” he said.******Deals may now make more sense. “We have room for acquisitions if there are real opportunities out there that don’t represent stupid prices or acquisitions risks,” he said when asked if they were on the prowl.******Time Warner, of course, knows a thing of two about stupid prices and acquisition risks.******Speaking of which… Not surprisingly, Bewkes was asked about AOL. He provided fairly stock answers, saying he was disappointed in ad sales and would still consider a deal for the troubled web business. “We always remain open for scale combinations that put any of our businesses in a better position,” he said. “We remain open to that.”******(Photo: Reuters)