A Boss for Viacom's Pay TV Venture


Former Showtime executive Mark Greenberg is expected to be named chief of the Paramount, MGM, and Lions Gate channel

A former top Showtime executive is expected to be named chief executive officer of a new pay TV channel and online service being created by three movie studios, a move seen as another slap in the face to CBS's (CBS) premium channel.

During his 17 years at Showtime, Mark Greenberg worked in a variety of areas, from developing its boxing programming to marketing and sales to affiliate relations. But in March, 2006, sources say Greenberg was forced out after clashing with Showtime Networks CEO Matthew Blank. Since then Greenberg has been working as a consultant, most recently for Blockbuster (BBI) on its Total Access strategy, which is its attempt to compete with Netflix (NFLX). He began his career at Time Warner's (TWX) premium channel HBO.

Viacom's (VIA) Paramount Pictures, MGM, and Lions Gate Entertainment (LGF) announced Apr. 20 they would team up to launch a new pay TV channel that would have a strong online offering as well. Viacom will be providing operational support to the channel through its MTV Networks division. The announcement came as the three studios were opting not to renew their deals to supply Showtime with their movies, after the channel asked them to lower their fees. In addition to showing movies, the channel will develop original programs.

Stoking the CBS-Viacom Rivalry

The decision to create a new channel is making for a particularly prickly situation since CBS was, until late 2005, part of Viacom, before being spun off as a separate company. Octogenarian mogul Sumner Redstone serves as chairman of both CBS and Viacom. That Viacom would recruit a former deposed Showtime executive to run the channel will almost certainly stoke the rivalry that has emerged in the past two years between CBS and Viacom.

Greenberg did not return a phone call seeking comment. "Mark getting this job is definitely another f— you to Matt (Blank)," says one Showtime executive who asked not to be identified. A Showtime spokesperson declined to comment. A Viacom spokesperson declined to comment as well.

By having worked in most areas of a pay TV channel, Greenberg brings a breadth of experience to the still-unnamed venture. The channel will face enormous challenges, particularly since HBO, Showtime, and Starz have been in existence for decades. Among the hurdles for the new channel will be convincing consumers to pay to watch Hollywood movies when they are increasingly being made available in other places; it will also have to deliver hit shows at a time when other cable channels are putting emphasis on creating original programs. What's more, getting distribution from cable giants like Comcast (CMCSA) will be a tough sell since basic and digital tiers are already crowded with a variety of channels.

Lowry is a senior writer for BusinessWeek in New York.

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