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Epix Eyeing Original Scripted Content

10 Feb, 2014 By: Erik Gruenwedel

Original programming and pay television may seem synonymous to brands such as HBO, Showtime and Netflix. For Epix, however, the multiplatform premium channel co-owned by Paramount Pictures, Lionsgate and MGM has stuck to a regimen of movie re-runs and special events. Now it wants to differentiate itself as more than a repurposed content aggregator.

“We think that will help take us to the next level,” Lionsgate CEO Jon Feltheimer said in the mini-major’s Feb. 7 fiscal call. “Obviously, we and Paramount and MGM know how to create exciting content. So at the end of the day, great trajectory for Epix. It's doing all the things that we want to do.”

Feltheimer didn’t disclose what genres Epix original programming would take; suffice to say it could emulate Lionsgate’s noted track record producing serialized dramas such as “Weeds,” “Mad Men” and “Orange is the New Black” for Netflix.

Indeed, Lionsgate and Hulu Plus last summer inked a deal to create 10 episodes of supernatural comedy “Deadbeat,” which deals with ghosts settling unfinished business with the living.

“Hulu’s back in the game since its recent infusion of cash, and the game from here on out will require funding, interesting new series as a way to draw in a unique audience, and attract other producers who have hopes of being funded,” Forrester Research analyst James McQuivey said in a note at the time. “That's how you avoid the commoditization that is likely to strike online video providers that merely pass through the same content that others already have.”

To Kevin Beggs, president of Lionsgate Television Group, the surge in original programming among over-the-top video platforms (and pay-TV) centers around a market demand for episodic shows as studios scale back big-budget movie productions.

“We're in business with Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, [Chicago cable operator] WGN America,” Beggs said. “Eighteen months ago, none of those platforms were doing original programming. I think great talent is flowing into the TV business. We're simply getting more great players in the business, and it's great from the studio side.”

Epix, which has rolled out a steady stream of special events involving boxing, stand-up comedy (“Patton Oswalt: Tragedy Plus Comedy Equals Time,” “The Improv: 50 Years behind the Brick Wall”) and music concerts (“Madonna: The MDNA Tour,” “Pink: The Truth About Love Tour”), has upped the offerings through a slate of original documentaries — a genre Netflix has entered as well.

“The growth of streams of our content far outpaces the growth of subscribers that [Netflix and Google] have,” Phillip Dauman, CEO of Paramount parent Viacom, said in Jan. 31 fiscal call. “I think that bodes well for our revenue opportunities on both the advertising front, as well as the distribution revenue front in these new distribution platforms.”

An Epix spokesperson confirmed the platform is entertaining the concept of original programing, but said there was nothing definitive regarding actual shows to talk about at the moment.

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