Epix Deals Coming Soon?

New York — Viacom CEO Philippe Dauman told an investor conference last week that its premium movie-channel joint venture will have several distribution announcements to make in the days leading up to its launch next month, but declined to provide details.

Epix, a joint venture between Paramount, Lionsgate Entertainment and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, is scheduled to launch in early October. So far, the venture has only signed on one distribution partner — Verizon Communications, which plans to make the service available on multiple platforms.

While Epix has drawn some criticism from potential distributors who have wondered publicly about the need for another premium movie channel, Dauman said at the Goldman Sachs Communacopia conference that there will be more deals to come.

“We’ve had very productive conversations with many distributors, including some who in the past may have made some public statements,” Dauman said.

“We’ve announced the Verizon distribution deal; by the time we launch, we expect to announce some additional distribution arrangements and then we will continue beyond that,” he added.

Dauman said that he believes the flexibility of the channel will make it most attractive to distributors.

“The great thing we offer distributors is we have for them what is a relatively low-cost product; it’s one with a lot of flexibility,’ ” Dauman said. “If in certain markets they want to build it on a la carte and flip to a tier, they have the ability to do that.”

While Dauman did not reveal pricing for the channel, he predicted it would be profitable “sometime next year or earlier the following year.”

That, he added, is a function of its low cost of operation. The primary cost of the channel is the output deals from the various movie studios.

“The economics vary depending on the distributor,” Dauman said. “One selling point is that they can use this service to meet their needs.”

— Mike Farrell

ZillionTV Delays Launch

Los Angeles — ZillionTV — the Internet-TV startup backed by Hollywood’s biggest movie studios — has delayed its commercial launch until the second half of 2010 and concluded that its original strategy of coming to market with broadband service providers won’t give its ad-supported play enough reach.

The company is embarking on an “expanded distribution” strategy that will include pilot trials of a direct-to-consumer offering, while maintaining the primary focus on continued partnerships with telcos, said CEO Mitch Berman. In addition, ZillionTV is hoping to land deals with consumer-electronics manufacturers to embed the service into Internet-connected devices.

“Going through [service providers] is a good idea — we have a motivated partner who can deliver a service with guaranteed quality,” Berman said. “But we can’t cover the entire country… We can expand in cracks around the country where we don’t have partners.”

The Sunnyvale, Calif.-based company’s investors include entertainment companies The Walt Disney Co., 20th Century Fox Television, NBC Universal, Sony and Warner Bros., credit-card issuer Visa, set-top chip manufacturer Sigma Designs and several venture-capital firms.

In ZillionTV’s original model, ISPs would offer a broadband video-on-demand service — with a free set-top box and remote control — as an enticement for subscribers to move to higher-speed tiers. The service is supposed to provide free, ad-supported premium video content, as well as rental and download-to-own options. ZillionTV previously said it hoped to launch the service with upwards of 15,000 titles.

The company hasn’t announced which telcos it’s working with, but ZillionTV’s first major ad partner is MillerCoors, Berman said. He added that the company now has 60 content partners, including the five studios that are investors and The Weinstein Co., up from 30 in March.

The ISP version of ZillionTV’s service is currently in a closed beta phase of testing, and the company now expects it to become available to consumers nationwide in the second half of 2010. Originally, it had hoped to launch before the end of this year. The startup expects to start direct-to-consumer pilots in the fourth quarter of 2009 in select markets.

The direct-to-consumer service will, like the original ISP version, include no subscription fee or charge for the hardware, but the service will carry an “activation fee” of $100 or less.

— Todd Spangler

Flo TV Opens Car Doors

San Diego — FLO TV, Qualcomm’s mobile TV subsidiary, has signed a deal with Audiovox to offer an in-vehicle entertainment system delivering live TV service through more than 12,000 new car dealers in 85 markets.

Audiovox, which sells automotive entertainment, vehicle security and other aftermarket auto products, will be a supplier of the FLO TV Auto Entertainment system and will manage the launch through its distribution network. FLO TV Auto Entertainment is scheduled to be available to consumers in the fourth quarter of 2009.

FLO TV is currently available through AT&T Wireless and Verizon Wireless on select handsets. The lineup of more than a dozen live channels includes CNBC, Comedy Central, MSNBC, MTV, NBC, NBC News, NBC Sports and Nickelodeon.

The service will compete with other in-car entertainment ventures, including AT&T CruiseCast, which launched its service with 22 live TV channels earlier this year.

— Todd Spangler

Clearwire Kicks Off Test

Kirkland, Wash. — Clearwire has launched a WiMax test network in Silicon Valley that will cover 20 square miles and is aimed at fostering the development of broadband wireless applications by Google and other tech firms in the area.

The current coverage footprint of the WiMax “sandbox” includes the local campuses of Intel and Google, which hold stakes in Clearwire along with Comcast, Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks. Clearwire’s majority owner is Sprint Nextel.

The test network in Santa Clara, Mountain View and parts of downtown Palo Alto, Calif., is a precursor to commercial service planned for the San Francisco Bay Area in 2010, according to the company.

“Our goal is to harness the concentration of developer talent in Silicon Valley and accelerate the pace at which these disruptive services are being developed,” said Clearwire chief technology officer John Saw in a statement.

The test network will be expanded to cover Cisco Systems’ campus in the coming months, Clearwire said.

— Todd Spangler