Epix to Rebrand as MGM+ in January, Orders New Series Including Chris Brancato’s ‘Hotel Cocaine’

MGM+ head Michael Wright explains the name change, which is timed to the Season 3 return of Forest Whitaker's "Godfather of Harlem" on Jan. 15, 2023.

MGM+ Epix

Epix is heading into 2023 with a new — yet very familiar — identity. Starting Jan. 15, 2023, the MGM-owned pay cable network and streaming outlet will take its parent company’s name and be known as MGM+. The rebrand comes following Amazon’s $8.5 billion acquisition of MGM in March.

‘We have felt for some time that this is the best service that many people have never heard of,” says Michael Wright, who has been president of Epix since 2017 and will now serve as head of MGM+. “Other than individual shows, the service has never been marketed. Now you have this incredibly powerful, loud name that means something to people. You could spend five years and $100 million trying to launch a new brand, and you wouldn’t have the brand equity that you get with MGM. It’s really something of a gift.”

Wright says that adding a “+” to “MGM” is a signifier that the while channel will continue with a linear cable offering, MGM+ also sees itself as part of Amazon’s streaming diet, alongside Prime Video and ad-supported Freevee.

“But we occupy a lane those two don’t,” says Wright, who also serves as president of MGM Scripted TV (although Epix/MGM+ is his primary focus at the moment). “We live in a hybrid space; we are a linear service as well as a digital service.” There’s no plan as of now to offer a bundle that might include MGM+, but Wright notes that Epix/MGM+ is already available to Amazon Prime customers as an add-on via its Amazon Channels offerings.

The switchover to MGM+ is timed to the Season 3 premiere of “Godfather of Harlem,” one of Epix’s signature dramas, starring Forest Whitaker as real-life 1960s New York gangster Bumpy Johnson. That’s followed by new seasons of “From” and “Rogue Heroes.” Other Epix/MGM+ shows include “Billy the Kid.”

New series include “Hotel Cocaine,” from “Godfather of Harlem” EP Chris Brancato, set in the 1970s and early ‘80s Miami drug trade. The 8-episode show follows Cuban exile and CIA operative Roman Compte, who runs The Mutiny Hotel. Guillermo Navarro (“Pan’s Labyrinth”) will direct the pilot and also executive produce.

Also, “Belgravia: The Next Chapter,” a sequel series to Julian Fellowes’ “Belgravia,” takes place 25 years after that show. Helen Edmundson (“Dalgliesh,” “Mary Magdalene”) will write the new installment, while Fellowes, Gareth Neame, Nigel Marchant and Joanna Strevens are executive producers.

Unscripted projects to come include a docuseries based on the real-life “Amityville Horror” murders, and another on the late 1960s San Francisco music scene (tentatively titled “San Francisco Sounds”), from the same team behind Epix’s music doc “Laurel Canyon.” Also on deck: “Murf the Surf,” a true crime docuseries from R.J. Cutler and Imagine Documentaries.

“The good news is, Amazon has increased investment in content,” says Wright, who declines to get into specifics on how much that means. But, he contends, the new owners are “really helping us to grow this thing. So, we’re doing more of the same with, I will say, a greater emphasis on and celebration of MGM. We’re not going to be exclusive to MGM, we’re still going to be acquiring films from other studios. But a celebration of the MGM brand is a is a bigger part now of the service.”

MGM+ will also continue to rely heavily in its film library, which includes first-run pay windows for MGM films such as the latest James Bond entry “No Time to Die,” “House of Gucci” and “Licorice Pizza,” as well as output from Paramount (including “Top Gun: Maverick”), Blumhouse and other studios.

“We’ve also gone out and added more MGM titles to the library so that when people discover this in January, they’re going to get our originals and many great MGM movies,” Wright says.

As Wright adjusts to the new Amazon structure, he says the company is being “very thoughtful” about how and where to mine the MGM library for remakes and revivals. “Will we take MGM IP and develop a series around it? Absolutely. which one it is, or which ones they are? I don’t know yet,” he says. “It’s an incredibly rich library of great titles. There’s so much great material there. We just have to be thoughtful about it, and which ones we choose.”

Epix was originally launched in 2009 as a joint venture between Viacom, MGM and Lionsgate, all of which had ended their “pay one” film output deals with Showtime. The three companies decided to band together and move their pay TV windows to a new outlet, which they named Epix.

MGM bought out Viacom and Lionsgate in 2017, and that’s when Wright joined Epix. Although a channel name change was kept on the backburner as MGM went on the market, Wright’s team reworked the Epix logo to mirror MGM’s branding. And he says he set out to definite Epix originals in the vein of MGM’s film legacy.

“We did a complete makeover, both aesthetically, but also programmatically at the service,” Wright says. “It started with changing the color scheme. If you look, we just went right after the MGM color palette. We were trying to build the association between our service and MGM. We changed the aesthetic, we changed the music, the messaging. The thing we didn’t do was change the name because it was decided for various reasons to not do it at that time. But we actually made a conscious effort to curate the programming to the universal perception of the MGM brand.”

When Amazon took over, Wright said that’s when he got the greenlight to finish the job and rename the channel MGM+.

“Customers hear MGM and they think quality, they think great, classic storytelling, they think entertainment,” Wright says. But some consumers also think of hotels and gambling — which comes out of the era when Kirk Kerkorian owned the brand and used it to create what’s now MGM Resorts International, an entirely unrelated company now to MGM.

“We have to be thoughtful about our marketing, making sure that people know this is an entertainment service,” Wright says. “It’s not a betting service. It’s not the hotels. But we’re aware of it. And it’s something that you just you make sure you communicate to people.”

And that includes keeping MGM+ at a low price point: $5.99 a month. “We’re less expensive than anybody else, and that was by design,” Wright says. “We thought, Okay, we’re the upstarts. We’re the underdogs. So, we’re going to make it undeniable, we’re going to offer you a product that is truly premium, super high quality and offer it at a price that you that you almost should sample it at that price. And there’s no intention today to raise the price.”

In aiming to grow MGM+, Wright says he’s zeroing in on the mantra “television for movie lovers.”

“There’s a certain addressable market of viewers out there that don’t go to the movies as much as they used to,” he says. “They’re not as drawn to the big superhero movies or the big spectacle IP. They like that sophisticated, cinematic, adult contemporary storytelling. And that’s what we focus on.”

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