Encore, Halmi in web-to-cable deal

Encore, the John Malone-controlled minipay cable network that’s planning seven additional multiplexed channels next year, has signed a deal with Robert Halmi that will funnel RHI Entertainment’s next 16 TV movies to the service 24 hours after their first run in network primetime.

At a news conference at the Western Cable Show in Anaheim, John Sie, chairman and CEO of Encore Media, said RHI will deliver all 16 movies within one year, making Halmi one of the most prolific TV-movie producers in network history. The deal includes pay cable rights to 100 miniseries and TV movies in RHI’s inventory, including “Lonesome Dove” and its sequel, plus “Scarlett,” the sequel to “Gone With the Wind” that’s in production.

Sources say it’s unusual for as many as 16 TV movies to shift immediately from network primetime to pay cable. HBO and Showtime have done a couple of deals like this in the past, but the movies have always premiered on the cable network before going to the broadcast network, like Fox’s telecast earlier this week of HBO’s “Barbarians at the Gate.”

Although the RHI movies will end up on more than one of Encore’s multiplexed networks, the pictures will kick off on Starz, the channel Sie will launch Feb. 1, and use for the newer theatricals he’s bought exclusively from Universal and Miramax, such as “Scent of a Woman” and “The Crying Game.”

TV networks should worry less about overexposure because, for the first 18 months of its life, Starz will be available only to Tele-Communications Inc. system subscribers, who will have to pay $ 4.95 a month to get it on a two-channel tier with the Encore network, which focuses on movies from the ’60s, ’70s and early ’80s.

Halmi will shoot a slightly different version of his TV movies for Encore, mainly, Sie says, to avoid the half dozen or more fake climaxes that pull viewers into the network-TV commercial breaks. All of the Encore channels will be commercial free.

Sie says the beauty of the deal for Encore is that “we’ll be able to piggyback on the network promotion of these movies, which could make them hotter than a theatrical that we get a year after it ran in the movie theaters.”

Of his six multiplexed channels, each of which zeros in on one particular theme, Sie says Love Stories, the Western Channel and the Mystery Channel will roll out in July. The other three — Tweens, Action and True Stories & Drama — will go on line late in 1994.

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