Viacom Takes Aim at Showtime With Movie Net

Viacom on Sunday announced it would launch a premium movie network, aligning its Paramount Pictures unit with the studios Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and Lionsgate, in what could be construed as a frontal assault on CBS Corp.’s Showtime Networks.

Expected to go live in the fourth quarter of 2009, the as-yet-unnamed movie channel will have the exclusive pay-TV rights to titles culled from the three studios, as well as the MGM subsidiary United Artists and the Paramount offshoot Paramount Vantage.

Among the theatrical titles that will be available to the new venture are the upcoming Paramount movies Iron Man and Star Trek XI, which will be directed by Lost creator J.J. Abrams. The combined libraries also feature such iconic films as The Godfather and The Godfather II, as well as MGM’s James Bond franchise.

The more indie-oriented Lionsgate is home to Quentin Tarantino’s first picture, Reservoir Dogs, and the melodrama Crash, which won the Academy Award for best picture of 2005.

“This venture has the potential to be a game changer for the industry,” said Viacom CEO Philippe Dauman by way of announcing the deal. “We are building an innovative service that will use traditional and new digital distribution technologies to bring great film and television entertainment directly to the consumer.”

As a complement to the linear channel, a video-on-demand service be offered to affiliates as part of the total package. While it’s too soon to assess how successful the venture will be in landing carriage, it should be noted that cable giant Comcast is a minority owner of MGM, carrying a 20 percent stake in the studio.

Moreover, the affiliate team at MTV Networks will be charged with whipping up interest with carriers. Viacom said that its MTVN division would “provide operational support to the venture, including marketing and affiliate services.”

After Showtime’s output deal with Paramount expired in 2007, the contract was never renewed. Similar deals between the CBS property and both MGM and Lionsgate will also run out at the end of 2008.

The five studios will also collaborate on developing original scripted television series for the channel.

Viacom and CBS split on the last day of 2005 and shares of the two companies began trading separately for the first time on January 3, 2006. The two entities are presided over by Sumner Redstone, who owns the controlling voting interests in both through his family’s privately-held National Amusements.