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Epix Announces 4K Plans, Eyes Standalone Video Subscription Service (EXCLUSIVE)

While continuing to pursue its goal of getting full distribution across the U.S. with pay-TV providers, premium cable network Epix is also exploring plans for a standalone, direct-to-consumer video subscription service in the future.

“Direct-to-consumer is very important,” said the network’s executive VP and GM, Monty Sahran, in a conversation with Variety this week. “We will be in that space.”

Sahran made these remarks during a conversation about Epix’s upcoming support for 4K Ultra HD video, which is scheduled to launch this year.

He didn’t commit to a launch date for the standalone offering, or comment on any pricing plans. However, he also made no secret out of his desire to ultimately sell Epix directly as well. “It’s on our roadmap and we are working towards it,” he said.

Such a move would mimic efforts of competing premium cable networks, most of which have launched their own Netflix-like online video subscription services in recent years. HBO, Starz and Showtime all sell their own branded standalone streaming services, both through the digital storefronts of companies like Amazon, Google and Apple as well as with the help of internet service operators.

Some of these efforts have been quite successful: HBO Now reportedly has more than 5 million subscribers, and CBS has said that its digital services Showtime Now and CBS All Access have a combined 5 million subscribers.

Epix, which launched in late 2009 as a joint-venture between MGM, Paramount and Lionsgate, has instead thus far opted to work with existing online video services. The network struck an early distribution deal with Netflix in 2010, and subsequently licensed its catalog to Hulu and Amazon. “We were born with digital DNA,” said Sahran about these early partnerships with online video services. Epix was a streaming pioneer by licensing its content on a white-label basis, he said. “People forget that we were there first.”

Last year, MGM bought out Lionsgate and Paramount to become the sole owner of Epix. Sahran said that both companies shared a similar culture, including a clear focus on movies as the centerpiece of Epix’s programming. “We have been committed to a big movie strategy,” he said. In addition, MGM is going to supply Epix with original series that will help to acquire new customers. To this end, Epix recently hired TV veteran Nancy Cotton to head original programming.

Epix is also looking to differentiate itself from the competition by being early to embrace 4K. The network announced Tuesday that Epix subscribers will be able to watch movies and TV shows in 4K some time this year. Subscribers will be able to stream 4K titles via video on demand through Epix’s apps on select devices.

First titles available in 4K will include James Bond films including “Die Another Day,” “Goldeneye,” and “The Spy Who Loved Me” as well as movies like “Star Trek Beyond” and “Transformers: The Last Knight.” The network is also going to make the Epix original series “Get Shorty” available in 4K.

Sahran said that Epix was the first TV network to offer 4K through its apps, and hinted at support for HDR down the line as well. “We are really excited about the future,” he said.

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