‘Hours’ Powers Cable Nets

Oct 27, 2003  •  Post A Comment

Continuing efforts to aggressively ramp up their theatrical acquisition activity, A&E Networks and Lifetime Television have cut deals with Paramount Domestic Television to share the broadcast window for the feature film “The Hours,” which received nine Academy Award nominations and won an Oscar for Nicole Kidman as best actress.
Both networks are partially owned by Hearst and ABC.
Industry executives said A&E paid north of $6 million for a roster of films that includes “The Hours,” which had a box office gross about about $41.6 million. The selection also includes the broadcast premiere of the “The Four Feathers,” plus rerun rights to “Clear and Present Danger,” “Indecent Proposal,” “The Hunt for Red October,” “Forrest Gump” and “Ghost.”
“The Hours,” which was released in 2002, will appear first on A&E in 2005. It will air after that on Lifetime. Lifetime declined to say what it paid for its portion of the window.
This year A&E more aggressively pursued movie and series acquisitions and looked to make splashes with topical original movies and miniseries, after watching original series such as “100 Centre Street” and “MI-5” draw disappointing ratings. Among the original long-forms A&E plans are upcoming biographies of Hillary Clinton and Arnold Schwarzenegger. A&E also is expected to announce this week another original picture, with a major star as the lead.
Premieres of films such as “The Hours” are designed to help A&E attract more young viewers. The network also targets upscale baby boomers. “We know big movies and movies that have not had a tremendous amount of exposure are very attractive to this audience,” said Bob DeBitetto, who joined A&E eight months ago as senior VP and head of programming.
Mr. DeBitetto explained that is why the network has been more aggressive in pursuing deals with movie studios. Over the summer A&E bought a package of 45 movies from Miramax, including the broadcast premieres of “In the Bedroom,” “Iris” and “The Shipping News” and the basic cable premiere of “Chocolat” and “Reservoir Dogs.”
The films should also provide a promotional platform for the network’s other programming, including the “Biography” franchise, which is being refreshed; dramas, including the recently acquired “CSI: Miami” repeats and nonfiction programming.
A&E is also looking to develop series-its own “Nip/Tuck” or “Monk,” said Mr. DeBitetto-but that’s on a “mid-term horizon.”
Lifetime has turned to theatrical films because its supply of made-for-TV movies that first aired on broadcast networks is drying up. In addition to “The Hours,” starring Meryl Streep, Julianne Moore and Ms. Kidman, Lifetime has made a deal with Paramount to acquire the rights to the broadcast premiere of “Angela’s Ashes,” based on the best-selling book by Frank McCourt.
At the same time, Lifetime is finalizing negotiations to acquire the broadcast premiere of the Mandy Moore film “How to Deal” and Academy Award-nominated “Tumbleweeds” from New Line Cinema. The network will again share the rights to “How to Deal,” this time with rival women’s network Oxygen, which will air the film sometime after Lifetime’s run.
Lifetime’s shift in strategy will pit it against Oxygen more frequently. Oxygen has featured theatrical movies as part of its program lineup, and this month aired its first original movie, “A Tale of Two Wives.” Oxygen executives had no comment on Lifetime’s growing interest in theatrical films.
The cost of film rights on television generally is based on their box office grosses, but cable network executives said they’re paying less than the traditional 15 percent for films. But by getting multiple channels to share films during the broadcast window, the studios are often able to generate the same income from their pictures. Lifetime’s new movies were hardly box office blockbusters. Though critically acclaimed, “The Hours” grossed just $41.6 million. “Angela’s Ashes” earned $13 million. “How to Deal,” which premiered in July, generated almost $6 million its opening weekend. Lifetime executives declined to comment on which titles have been acquired but acknowledge that the network’s strategy has changed because the broadcast networks are making fewer movies-of-the-week that conformed to the Lifetime formula of women in crisis being empowered.
“It’s forced us to think more creatively to find different resources for our movies,” said Rick Haskins, executive VP of Lifetime Entertainment Services. Mr. Haskins said the network is also looking at more independent movies, movies made for pay-TV and basic cable and Canadian movies.
“We’ve cast our net wider, and it gives viewers a greater variety of movies,” he said.
The channel is looking for movies with stories “that resonate with our viewers,” Mr. Haskins said. Lifetime viewers like films based on true stories but are also open to drama and romances.
But Lifetime is less dependent on movies than in the past, Mr. Haskins said. Its Sunday night dramas, including “Strong Medicine” and “The Division,” continue generating solid ratings. The network is also pleased with the performance of its new Saturday lineup, which features “Wild Card” and “1-800-Missing.”
With original dramas filling the weekend time slots, “we try to provide the best quality movies Monday through Friday,” Mr. Haskins said.