Studios Get Into HD Movie Streaming with Epix

Paramount, Lionsgate, and MGM have partnered together to create Epix, a new video streaming service that will offer high-definition streaming versions of Hollywood movies before they’re available on DVD. And although the service will be available for free, it won’t be open to the public in the way that Hulu or YouTube can be accessed by anyone: instead, the film companies are bundling up Epix as a value-add service for cable companies and ISPs as a way to attract and retain customers.

Currently in private beta, Epix will have two components: one will be as an add-on package for cable and home video services that is intended to be bundled into existing cable packages with no additional fee. Service subscribers would be able to access selected movies in the window between their theatrical release and their DVD release without paying any extra money; typically, movies are only available via cable in that window via pay-per-view and on-demand services.

However, Epix is taking the concept one step further and enabling home video service subscribers who also subscribe to Internet service from the same provider to stream those movies in high-definition (720p) format. Currently Epix is using a Flash-based player that dynamically scales the stream based on available bandwidth, so users can watch the high-definition version if they have a big enough pipe, or a lower bitrate version of a film if they’re on a more constrained connection.

Both the streaming service and the video-based versions of Epix films would be offered without advertisements.

Unlike services like Hulu and YouTube, the studios don’t plan to offer Epix directly to consumers; instead, Epix will be a closed-off product available only to the studios’ home video and broadband partners, who will in turn offer it to their customers. So far Epix has not laid out any partnerships, but likely candidates include cable operators like Comcast and Cablevision, as well as satellite operators and fiber-to-the-home services like AT&T’s Uverse and Verizon’s FiOS.