It’s no secret that the Internet TV service Hulu has been on the rise in recent months. Its rapid growth can be attributed to many factors, but the fact that Hulu is owned by News Corp (FOX), NBC, and most recently Disney (ABC) has provided it with a huge edge in content.
Now it seems that Hulu’s success hasn’t gone unnoticed by the movie industry. Quietly, Paramount, Lionsgate, and MGM studios have been working together on a new project that will create a new TV channel and sister website for streaming movies: Epix. And while Epix is in private beta (for now), it promises to offer hundreds of full-length movies for your viewing pleasure, but with a few important caveats.
Epix comes in two parts: a television channel and a Hulu-like website. The television channel will show recent and popular movies from Paramount, Lionsgate, and MGM. This means you could watch Iron Man, Cloverfield, or even Raging Bull. Movies will air uninterrupted on the channel - no commercials.
It may sound a lot like some premium movie channel offerings already on the market, but it differs from HBO and Showtime in one major aspect: they don’t want you to pay for it. Epix’s intent is to strike deals with cable and satellite providers to bring you the channel as part of your standard TV package.
The Epix channel is only half the story, however. Epix has a fully-functional sister website, EpixHD.com. This website has hundreds of movies from the libraries of the three movie studios. As long as the movie is available for airing on the TV channel, it will be available to stream online. And since most movies have a lifespan of about 2 years on TV, it adds up to a lot of movies.
So what about the website itself? Is it any good? Does it really act like a Hulu for films? Well, we were provided early access to EpixHD and took it for a spin.
The first thing that strikes the eye is its straightforwardness: a panorama of movie choices greets you when you first land on the website. Selecting one will immediately take you to the movie’s web page, where you can watch the film, check out movie information, download wallpapers, and read plot details via Wikipedia.
Now, of course, what you care about are the movies and their quality, and on both fronts this beta website is already stellar. The quality is, as the site’s domain suggest, HD-level (720p at 3 megabits), and the movie selection is nothing you can laugh at, with more to come. The movies available tend to be on the newer side, but has a selection of older films as well. Regardless, being able to watch Iron Man in a legal stream puts a smile on our faces.
While there are a lot of social features included in Epix, the one that caught our attention was the Private Screening feature. This spiffy little addition allows four people to watch a movie simultaneously and discuss it via a real-time chat. As a bonus, the chat is designed like a movie theater (a la Mystery Science Theater 3000). This can be a very easy way to enjoy a film together virtually.
Caveats and what’s next for Epix
While EpixHD is sleek and provides all the functionality you really need, the website will not be accessible by all. Yes, this is where the caveat comes into play.
EpixHD is free, as long as you have the Epix TV channel. This is different than Hulu, which is geo-restricted to the U.S. If your cable provider has the channel and provides you with Internet, you will have access. There are also some accounts available that don’t require access to the TV channel, but for now it doesn’t seem like accounts will be available to all. This also means that there is not embedding feature for these full-length films.
However, we don’t think it’s time to lose hope yet. Epix is still very early stage and could go in a lot of directions. Consumer demand for the product could create a pay-access version or an ad-supported version. It’s clear that they want Epix to be part of a TV package, but access can be independent of the TV channel.
As a standalone website, though, Epix is content-rich and easy to use. It really is a Hulu for films, minus the embedding. We hope that as the movie studios develop the website and the plan, they’ll find ways to support the service and provide access to all. We believe that the movie studios providing online and TV access to full-length films could be a game changer, if they follow a smart game plan.
In the meantime, Epix may be providing additional invites after they fix some bugs and improve the user interface. If and when that occurs, we’ll try to come back with invites.
How do you watch movies online, ONTD?
Also, just so you know, videos on Hulu are ad-free today through a sponsorship from something called a Bing-A-Thon [insert Friends joke here].
Source: Ben Parr at Mashable