Syndie Pic Package Passes ‘Go,’ Collects $50 Mil (Or So)

In an era when most movies are bypassing tv syndication for basic cable, New Line TV Distribution is syndicating a 61-title package that could gross up to $50 million between 1992 and 1994. The 31 theatricals in the package (the rest are tv movies) include “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,” “Pump Up The Volume,” House Party” and “A Nightmare On Elm Street 5.”

“We want to get the word out to stations that, even though the major studios have abandoned you, New Line wants to establish itself as a player in movie syndication,” says Jody Shapiro, president of New Line TV Distribution. “Our message is: We’re not gonna be fly-by-night, here-today-gone-tomorrow.”

Looking at the overall package, Janeen Bjork, v.p., programming for the Seltel tv-rep firm, says, “It’s pretty uneven. You’ve got three or four pictures at the top that are dynamite. But once you get past those, it’s mezz’ e mezz’.”

Aware of that weakness, Shapiro says New Line deliberately passed up offers from three of the four networks for primetime runs of “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” and its forth coming sequel (to be released theatrically next month). By walking away from those network bids, New Line will be able to make the original “Turtles” available to stations in syndication in 1993 (instead of as late as 1996). One network source says New Line could’ve pocketed a total of as much as $6 million for two network-primetime runs of each of the two “Turtles” theatricals.

An additional advantage, as Shapiro is presenting the package to stations, is that, because of a cable-exclusive, presyndication output deal with Showtime, none of the New Line theatricals will play on HBO, which reaches more than twice as many subscribers as Showtime. With no HBO or network-primetime exposure before their appearance in syndication, Shapiro says the more imposing titles in the New Line package could score as high as a 10 rating for two barter syndicated runs.

A batch of stations already has signed up for the package, including WJBK-TV Detroit, WPWR-TV Chicago, WPHL-TV Philadelphia, WLVI-TV Boston, KICU-TV San Francisco and KDNL-TV St. Louis. No cash will change hands in these transactions – it’s an all-barter package, with the stations guaranteeing New Line a three-year commitment.

The deal is one of the most complicated ever devised for a syndicated movie bundle. Fifty-one of the 61 titles become available in 1992. Shapiro is setting up a committee of eight program directors and two tv-rep programmers to single out 12 of the 51 pictures to run as part of a one-a-month primetime showcase, with New Line holding back 12 minutes in each two-hour run for sale to national advertisers (leaving 12 for the stations to sell locally).

Likely candidates for the primetime runs are “Elm Street 5,” the Walter Matthau tv movie “The Incident” and two high-rated sexploitation tv movies, “Mayflower Madame” and “The Prize Pulitzer.”

Thirty more of the 51 titles for 1992 will run in various time periods on the stations with the same 12/12 barter split. Stations will get two runs each of remaining 10 as freebies – New Line will forgo its 12 commercial minutes for these plays.

In 1993, New Line will funnel 10 more movies to the stations for a double barter run, including three of the strongest theatricals in the package: “Turtles,” “House Party” and “Pump Up The Volume.”

The 12 best-performing titles from 1992 and 1993 – as selected by the committee – will go back to the stations in 1994 for a final one-a-month run in primetime. And, as in 1992, the stations will have to squeeze 30 more of the original 61 titles into a barter run in 1994, with New Line allowing them to schedule an additional 10 as part of a no-barter, double-run freebie arrangement.

“My concern is that New Line is asking stations to give up a lot of commercial time for a package which is not all that strong,” says John von Soosten, v.p. and director of programming for Katz Communications. Right now, he continues, such an elaborate barter deal may not seem like a terrific sacrifice because the demand for commercials in national spot and local spot is close to an all-time low.

But, according to von Soosten, “1992 is an Olympics year and a Presidential-election year, which traditionally result” in stepped-up advertiser demand across the board in broadcast tv. The value of the 30-second spots in these movies to New Line would thus more than outstrip any cash license fees it could negotiate upfront with the stations, he says.

Shapiro says that he had two other reasons for steering clear of cash payments from stations: the multiple of 61 pictures would’ve made the total price prohibitive (most cash packages hover between 15 and 30 titles) and New Line would’ve had to tie the movies up for at least five years in syndication. “With this barter deal,” he continues, “I get all of the pictures back in three years, free and clear.”

That shorter syndication window is important, according to Shapiro, because the way the business is changing, potentially lucrative markets undreamed of today could be clamoring for movies by the mid-1990s.

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