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Streaming Media West 2009 Keynote 3: Emil Rensing, CDO, EPIX

On Thursday, the final day of Streaming Media West 2009, EPIX chief digital officer Emil Rensing showed off his company's solutions to three-screen TV Everywhere.

Rensing keynoted under the title "On-Air, Online, On Demand: TV Everywhere Today" and talked about the pedigree of EPIX—Paramount, Lionsgate, and MGM are joint owners of the company—allowed it to roll out a TV Everywhere solution more rapidly than the rest of the industry."We're not talking about theoretical, we're talking about a product today," said Rensing. "We launched three weeks ago with real customers. We now have a cable TV channel, with an east coast feed and a west coast feed, as well as a video on-demand service."

For VOD, Rensing is focusing on the cable television provider's definition, in which various movies can be chosen and viewed via the cable set-top box. Verizon FiOS subscribers, for instance, can watch the cable channel at channel 895 but can also choose first-run movies to view on-demand on their television sets.

"We're not a download replacement of physical disks," said Rensing. 'Wer'e a subscription service that may just be the way to keep cable TV competitive, with three platforms for one price (on-air, on demand, online). We're not chasing the shrinking ad revenues: no one has been emotionally moved by a banner ad, but they have been moved by a commercial."

EPIX has rights to distribute on any platform in the US and Caribbean, which means it can also provide the third option of online content that matches the on-demand content available on the television.

"We're a new product that expands existing businesses," said Rensing, "because the growth of cable is about infrastructure, not more channels. For consumers, it's a clear-ish proposition at a great price point, providing access to first run blockbusters from the parent studios, as well as content from Roadside Attractions and Samuel Goldwyn, plus concerts, comedy and original content."

Noting that content - including cable TV - could be delivered by DOCSIS 3 or WiFi to compete with WiMAX or other telecom offerings, Rensing says online has different rules than television.

"We want to win the lean-back online," said Rensing, "and we believe that pervasive consumption means that we don't limit choice. So we are listening to customer requests. One of those requests was to increase the VOD library offering by almost 1.7x in the past few weeks."

For online delivery, Rensing called out three partners: Akamai, Adobe and ClipSync.

"Akamai delivers our 720p HD with minimal buffering at six multi-bitrate encoding levels, up 3mbps, or down to the 500kbps 'why are you even bothering' version," said Rensing. "Our content uses the Adobe Flash platform, and our player by ClipSync "private viewing" player."

"One reason we chose Adobe is the ubiquity of the Flash player," said Rensing. "Based on my AOL background, we didn't want consumer to have to download a plug-in. So there are no downloads, no installs, no fussing and EPIX only requires two clicks to play content."

Rensing also said Flash allows for the potential to move to other devices, beyond the PC.

"We're working on multiple projects and approaches," said Rensing, "moving toward multiple agnostic platforms. But we're not looking to 'reinvent' viewing since this is part of a solution that includes cable TV."

Private viewing via the ClipSync player means that an EPIX subscriber can invite up to 4 friends to simultaneously watch a movie online, complete with chats and avatars in almost a Mystery Science Theater 3000-type interface.

"They don't need to be an EPIX subscriber, just like a friend would not need an HBO subscriber to view HBO when visiting your house," said Rensing, adding that the licensing cost does not rise in any way for the four simultaneous viewers. "The person setting up the viewing can control the 'remote control' and there is also a private chat feature in the player that integrates small-scale social media between the viewers."

All sits behind television provider authentication and strong analytics, according to Rensing, which is a way to create more opportunities for partners for the "things that live behind the authentication wall."

"Search will also not last forever," said Rensing. "If so, everything would be represented by the Dewey Decimal system, such as 701 Philosophy and Theory. We need to have an answer for all customers, who want to find and consume content quite differently, so we're bringing recommendations and ratings and collection in to our platform as we grow from 600 video packages and blockbusters into the thousands."

Finally, Rensing offered a deal for free EPIX trials, and offered a challenge.

"Go to www.Epixhd.com/invite and receive a free pass good for this weekend," said Rensing. "Then, please, give us feedback on what we're doing well, doing poorly or could improve."

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