SBD/March 16, 2011/Media

Epix' Mark Greenberg Discusses Weekend Broadcast Of Heavyweight Boxing Match

Studio 3 Partners CEO
Mark Greenberg
As CEO of Studio 3 Partners, Mark Greenberg oversees management of Epix, a multiplatform premium cable channel that is a joint venture between Viacom, Paramount Pictures, Lionsgate and MGM. With the audience for premium cable graying, Epix hopes to connect with younger viewers by offering a library of about 3,000 movies through a broadband service that complements its standard television offerings. Seventeen months after launching, Epix is available in about 30 million homes, with a subscriber base of about 4 million. The network joins premium counterparts HBO and Showtime on the boxing landscape starting Saturday night at 6:00pm ET when it airs heavyweight champ Vitali Klitschko's title defense against '04 Olympic Gold Medal-winner Odlanier Solis live from Cologne, Germany. It was a natural step for Greenberg, who ran boxing for more than a decade at Showtime and before that worked on fights as a rising exec at HBO. SportsBusiness Journal senior writer Bill King recently spoke with Greenberg about how and why the channel is sticking a toe in the ring.

Q: How did this deal come together for Epix?
Greenberg: I wish there was a straightforward answer, A led to B led to C. ... We launched this network about 15 months ago. Because of my relationships with just about every promoter with the exception of one, they all came in and we had conversations about what do we do and about problems in the sport. Boxing clearly has lost a little bit of its luster. We had a lot of conversations about what we'd be interested in doing. We think there's an opportunity. Some of the networks have done a great job over the years, but they really haven't reinvented what's going on with the telecast and where you take it.
There have been lots of conversations with the Don Kings and Shelly Finkels and Gary Shaws and obviously Lou (DiBella, who bought the foreign rights to this fight and brokered them to Epix). Where do we take this? I think we're trying to find new ways to bring life into the sport. We're not the answer. But we can contribute maybe a new outlet, a new way of thinking, a new way of doing it.

Q: So why this fight? Why now?
Greenberg: The question is, do you do it today? Do you do it a year from now? At what point does this become interesting? We sat back and said what would be a good fight to start with? I think this one has an interesting storyline. ... As we've learned over the years from the heavyweights, one punch can change the world.

Q: If you're going to use boxing to try to turn somebody into a subscriber, it obviously has to be more than one fight. You haven't committed to that. At this point, is the value mostly promotional?
Greenberg: It's great exposure. And there are more possibilities here. I've already had a number of phone calls. ... I think one of the challenges for boxing today is that there aren't enough outlets. The number of dates from some of the pay TV outlets over the last five years have shrunk. ... The fighters want to get paid x amount of money and you can't do it without TV. A fighter should fight four times a year or maybe five times a year. But the problem is, they want to get paid. They can't get paid unless they have a date. There aren't enough dates to go around. And so I think we hopefully offer a more consistent diet of what is possible. We may or may not be part of that mix, but my suspicion is that I'm probably going to get a few more texts and e-mails and probably a few phone calls. We'll see what's out there. We're not tied to any fighter. We're not tied to any promoter, although there are a few that I've worked with over the years that I think are very good. We'll see what happens.

Q: People don't necessarily know Epix at this time. But they know Showtime and HBO and they know those channels are in boxing. Does doing this fight help you brand a little bit and connect with consumers? Is there a parallel there?
Greenberg: Without question. HBO was founded in 1973. Showtime in '76. There are two brands that have been out there for a long time. Let's face it, Showtime's programming for a long time was Mike Tyson. He built ratings and awareness of what that brand was all about. Look at Marvin Hagler. At one point we used to joke that HBO stood for Hagler Boxes On. So I think that, for us, we launched on Oct. 30 of 2009. That's 15 months ago. ... We've done some massive deals and turned profitable and gotten great distribution. We're (available) in 35 million homes. This (fight) clearly helps us build awareness of who we are.

Q: What's the overall place of sports on Epix, and the place of sports in the Epix acquisitions budget?
Greenberg: Our business plan always called for some sort of ring sport. Generic. We weren't sure if we were going to do MMA or WWE or boxing. And I still reserve the right that we may explore any and all those options. ... We just finished a documentary of (skier) Lindsey Vonn. ... We think sports docs can be a fun thing for us to do, as well as some other things like boxing or MMA. Those are good places for us to be. We have an enormous commitment to movies, similar to HBO. ... We feel that's what drives pay television. But we do know there are strong passion groups, like boxing fans, that we have an opportunity to engage and embrace, and find new ways to do it. And that's exactly what we'll do.
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