Movie studios look at the big picture (and small) with Epix service

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Lionsgate, Paramount and MGM are planning to launch a new TV and online service called Epix that offers recent titles from its movie catalogue

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A triumvirate of major movie studios – Lionsgate, Paramount and MGM – is planning to launch a new TV service called Epix that will screen recent catalogue titles in HD. But what’s interesting is the group's move to bundle it with a Hulu-like on-demand, commercial-free service that streams the same films in 720p HD.

Epix hopes to offer the movies, ahead of their release on DVD, bundled directly into existing cable packages without adding an extra charge. We say “hopes” because, at the moment, the project is still in beta testing and is relying on enough cable operators to sign up to the new business model.

More importantly, the model lets viewers have on-demand access to the same titles in HD at The model is also similar to sports broadcaster ESPN’s streaming service, ESPN 360, which is also sold directly to ISPs and isn’t charged separately on customers’ bills.

Arguably the success of Hulu, owned by News Corp (FOX), NBC, and Disney (ABC), has acted as a catalyst to the three studios joining forces to form Epix.

According to Epix, online video will be offered in Flash format with multi-bitrate. The player will check bandwidth every 10 seconds to gauge if smaller or larger streams are needed. To avoid bandwidth issues, Epix is also looking at installing caching servers in ISP data centers with which it has or can build relationships.

If all goes to plan, Epix TV and will only be available to people subscribing to a content provider offering both a pay-TV and internet service. Epix is hard at it striking deals with cable and satellite providers to include its film titles in their standard TV packages.

The Epix offer will also incorporate interesting viewer features, such as Private Screening, which lets four people watch and talk about a movie at the same time.

While Epix is designed for the US market, if the business model works it’s likely to lay foundations elsewhere. As well, the existing proposal, if successful, could see other models spin off, such as a commercial-supported version or one that is only for the internet.

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