Negotiating Epix Deals

Greenberg builds premium channel’s business with digital in mind
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Epix CEO Mark Greenberg loves a good deal. Since Epix—the premium channel formed in 2008 by Viacom, Paramount Pictures, Lionsgate and MGMdecided last summer to play ball with Netflix by allowing the service to stream its movies 90 days after they premiere on Epix, Greenberg’s negotiating skills have been put to the test.

Worried about over-the-top digital distribution, some cable and satellite operators have frozen out Epix, but Greenberg is convinced they will soon warm up.

Greenberg recalls that theater owners thought HBO would destroy their business. Later, cable operators didn’t want programmers doing business with satellite or with the telcos. “Every time we have these changes, the incumbents don’t like it, which I understand. But that competition always made every platform better,” Greenberg says. “You want to find an economically viable place that still fits an equilibrium for the traditional players, which we have, protect their windows, which we have, and give them certain advantages. And now it’s a competition of marketing. What’s wrong with that?”

Netflix was an issue Greenberg negotiated with Dave Shull, senior VP of programming for Dish Network. “Mark reassured me that I was going to be able to offer my customers a really compelling product, and basically what he’s offering me is at least as good as what he’s offering Netflix,” Shull said. “Mark was persistent and kept coming back with new creative angles and that pulled it off in the end.”

Greenberg started his TV career in 1982 at HBO, working in affiliate sales and marketing. Seven years later, he moved to Showtime, rising to executive VP for strategic planning and development. He launched Showtime’s On Demand and HDTV services and oversaw Showtime Event Television, which produced four of the biggest pay-per-view events in cable history, including the infamous boxing match in which Mike Tyson bit off a chunk of Evander Holyfield’s ear.

Being in boxing meant negotiating with flamboyant promoter Don King. King calls Greenberg a friend who could be counted on to honor handshake deals. “He was innovative, imaginative and progressive, with ambitious taste and insatiable desire for success,” King says. The promoter recalls that he and Greenberg had set a date for the Tyson– Holyfield bout, but that Greenberg said he wouldn’t be able to attend because his wife was expecting the birth of their daughter. King moved the fight. “The event was big enough to substantiate itself no matter what day it was on, but the family thing, if you blow that, you don’t get the second chance. That shows you the stature and the esteem that I held him in,” King says.

Greenberg left Showtime in 2006 and did some consulting for clients including Blockbuster, Comcast and Lionsgate. He developed a business model for a multiplatform service with Blockbuster, but the video rental company pulled out. He then helped negotiate a joint venture agreement that formed Epix, with Netflix eventually taking the role Blockbuster would have played.

“It was important for the studios to be able to own the distribution platform as technology evolves,” says Greenberg. “So we brought the venture forward, and the three studios and Viacom recognized that strategically it was the right thing to do.”

The studios unanimously chose Greenberg to run the venture. The decision has paid dividends. “He’s got a grasp of technology and the digital world,” says Jon Feltheimer, Lionsgate CEO and a member of Epix’s board. “He’s a strong distribution executive, he has good marketing instincts and good programming skills. So we thought he had all the characteristics we were looking for.” Noting that Epix is already cash-flow positive and earnings-positive, Feltheimer adds: “He’s doing a very good job.”

When not at work, Greenberg spends time with his family. He and his wife, Tami, met while both worked at HBO. Now a big part of his life is watching their three children play sports.

Greenberg played basketball in high school, but now golf is his game, and his 20-year-old son Daniel is his golf partner. They don’t keep score, but “we’re at that point where he out-drives me by about 30 yards on every hole, so I have to make it up with the short game.”

E-mail comments to jlafayette@nbmedia.com and follow him on Twitter: @jlafayette

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