MGM HD Eyes Comcast Launch

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Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios is in talks with one of its owners, Comcast, as well as other distributors about carrying its new domestic HD channel, which will launch on DirecTV.

MGM doesn’t have a final carriage deal with Comcast yet for MGM HD, “but we’ve been talking to them all along,” said Douglas Lee, MGM’s executive vice president of Worldwide Digital Media. “They’ve always been supporters of this channel. We expect that we’ll get carriage, because we think we’re a good proposition.” 

Comcast owns a 20% stake in MGM, and is part of a group of investors in the movie studio that includes Providence Equity Partners, Sony Corp. of America, DLJ Merchant Banking Partners and Quadrangle Group.

Comcast declined to say where its talks with MGM HD stood.

“We just don’t comment on ongoing programming discussions,” Comcast spokeswoman Jenni Moyer said.

MGM HD will have limited advertising and some original programming, as well as offering films such as Usual Suspects, Leaving Las Vegas, West Side Story and RoboCop in HD. A quarter of the 4,100 titles in MGM’s library have already been re-mastered in HD, said Lee, who declined to discuss the network’s rate card.

Although MGM officially announced plans for MGM HD Tuesday, with its debut planned on DirecTV this fall, that news leaked out more than a week ago when an internal DirecTV memo was posted on a Web site, Satelliteguys.us. The memo said that MGM HD would be one of a half dozen HD-only networks that DirecTV planned to put on a separate tier, priced at $4.99 a month.

DirecTV will initially make MGM HD available for free to its HD Access customers for their $9.99 a month fee in a preview, according to Lee. After that preview, he believes that then the satellite provider will move MGM HD to the $4.99 tier.

MGM, which has international cable networks, has been trying to get a foothold in the U.S. market with one for years. The movie studio is launching an HD channel, rather than a standard definition one, “because that’s where the marketplace is and that’s a strength of ours,” according to Lee.

“We’ve been talking to everybody,” he said. “The satellite guys and the telcos have got the capacity right now. We’ve been talking to all those players, and the entire cable community, as well. DirecTV kind of threw down the gauntlet with the 150-channel claim. All the other operators have been working to meet that challenge and to compete, and we find ourselves in a really good position to get carriage.”

Many programmers are offering HD simulcasts of their standard-definition networks for free to distributors.

Lee would not discuss MGM HD’s license fees, but said the network’s business model will be affiliate fees and advertising. He also declined to comment on whether affiliates will get a piece of MGM HD’s ad revenue.

Initially, to create original programming MGM HD plans to send HD crews to film behind-the-scenes footage of movies the studio has in production, Lee said. MGM HD will also tape red-carpet events at the premieres of its movies in HD, he added.

MGM releases 20 to 25 theatricals a year.

DirecTV is expanding its HD lineup with 70 additional channels this fall. DirecTV has said the launch will start this month, but some HD programmers say their networks will go up on DirecTV in October. DirecTV says it will be offering 100 HD channels by the end of the year, and have the capacity to offer 150 by next year. 

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