Greenberg to head Viacom channel

The as-yet-unnamed pay TV joint venture of Viacom, Paramount Pictures, Lionsgate and MGM has tapped Showtime vet Mark Greenberg as prexy and chief exec.

The channel, which plans to kick off in fall 2009, aims to combine library and new film and TV titles as an alternative to the movie companies’ existing Showtime output deals. The April 20 announcement of its formation surprised many in showbiz, given Viacom’s relationship with CBS and its Showtime subsid. The movie-output deals that Par, MGM and Lionsgate have with Showtime will all have expired by early 2010.

The license fees for the three studio outputs cost Showtime about $400 million a year, money the network will be able to move into the production of original series such as its current successes “The Tudors,” “Dexter,” “Californication” and “Weeds.”

Showtime will get its fresh theatricals from the new CBS Films division that’s beginning to ramp up, as well as make opportunistic buys of movies not distributed by one of the major studios.

The new network will find a tough marketplace for its wares. Carriage deals and particulars about its VOD and Internet offerings have yet to be announced, and there are plenty of skeptics who insist the venture won’t achieve traction.

Fueling the reservations about the net’s chances are the fact that it’s rare for entrepreneurs to announce a cable network without one or more cable operators, satellite distributors or phone companies signed up to carry it.

Another drawback, critics say, is that the sales force of Viacom’s MTV Networks, which will try to clear the net in cable and satellite, has no experience selling commercial-free pay TV networks, having focused on ad-supported basic-cable channels like MTV, Nickelodeon, VH1 and Comedy Central.

But that’s where Greenberg comes in. He was exec VP of Showtime Networks, where he oversaw the development, management and execution of corporate strategy, business planning, new business development, digital media, research and international.

He created and launched Showtime-on-Demand, among other accomplishments. Greenberg formed a digital media consulting firm, MSGC, after leaving Showtime in March 2006.

Greenberg is holding meetings with cable-op executives in New Orleans at the National Cable Show this week in an all-out pitch to get deals for the network.

On behalf of the CEOs of the partner companies, Lionsgate co-chairman and chief exec Jon Feltheimer said Greenberg “has spent 25 years in the cable industry with HBO and with Showtime and most recently served as a strategic adviser to me at Lionsgate,” and as such “is the perfect executive to fill this important leadership role.”

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