Sony to launch 2 movie channels

Meg James
Los Angeles Times (MCT)

Responding to the changing revenue picture for movies, Sony Pictures Television plans to launch two movie channels this year to capitalize on the studio's extensive film library.

Sony Pictures Movies HD would be Sony's first wholly owned cable channel in the U.S. In recent years, the Japanese-owned studio has focused on international markets, building a portfolio of 122 channel feeds that are available in 140 countries at a time when rival entertainment firms aimed primarily at domestic audiences.

"That's where the growth was, and most people hadn't been there yet," Andy Kaplan, networks president for Sony Pictures Television, said Tuesday of the company's overseas strategy.

Now Sony is looking to tap the lucrative, but crowded, U.S. cable-TV market as other segments of the business dry up.

"They have been very successful internationally with their channels, but in the U.S. they have not had the leverage of the other media conglomerates, which have a bunch of different cable channels," said Derek Baine, television analyst for consulting firm SNL Kagan. "Perhaps they are doing this because the market to sell movies to broadcast and cable networks has been so bad."

The channel, scheduled to launch Oct. 1, is designed to exploit Sony's large film library, which includes such older titles as "Philadelphia" and "Taxi Driver," and to offer cable and satellite TV operators another high-definition channel to market as part of their HD packages.

The Sony movie channel would not be a premium pay service that offers costly original programming to compete against the likes of HBO, Starz or Showtime — or an upstart like Epix, a joint venture of Viacom's Paramount Pictures, Lions Gate Entertainment and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Instead, Sony's venture is expected to be less ambitious in scope, akin to the Universal HD and the MGM HD channels that primarily play older titles from those studios' film libraries.

Sony will continue to funnel its recent movie releases to Starz.

Sony owns a stake in the Game Show Network, and it has been experimenting with an advertising-supported online video service, Crackle, which allows people to watch movies and TV shows, as well as series "webisodes." Some short-form content from Crackle could find its way to the movie channel, Kaplan said.

The studio also is seeking to upgrade horror-movie outlet FearNet into a full-fledged cable network from its current status as an online service and video-on-demand channel. FearNet is a joint venture among Sony, Lions Gate and cable operator Comcast Corp.

Sony and Lions Gate also are aiming for an Oct. 1 launch for the FearNet movie channel.

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