ABC plucks parcel of Sony pix for $50 mil+

NEW YORK — ABC has acquired a package of theatricals from Sony Pictures Entertainment, paying north of $50 million for 13 films.

The Sony package covers a dozen films but only two titles considered top-drawer: “My Best Friend’s Wedding,” the Julia Roberts starrer which so far has raked in $69 million, and “Air Force One,” the Harrison Ford actioner due July 25.

Also in the package are “The Fifth Element,” the Bruce Willis sci-fi thriller helmed by Luc Besson which satisfies ABC’s appetite for male action films, and the upcoming “Excess Baggage,” starring Alicia Silverstone.

The overall figure, which could go higher if “Air Force One” performs especially well, reflects the intense competition for theatricals from the handful of studios — Sony and Universal chief among them — without TV network partners. NBC, CBS and Fox all bid for the package, but dropped out after what one network exec called Sony’s “exorbitant” demands. USA also is said to have bid on the package, with ABC closing its deal late Thursday.

The studio is expected to make its biggest killing of the summer with the TV sale of the blockbuster “Men in Black,” which was held back from the just-sold package to capitalize on its expected huge opening. The sci-fi comedy, which garnered $84 million in ticket sales in its first six days of release, could easily fetch $22 million, the current ceiling for two or three runs of blockbuster films.

Sony’s last theatrical package was sold in April to NBC, which bought “Anaconda,” “The Devil’s Own” and a handful of others, while Fox late last year acquired “Jerry Maguire” in a third package of a dozen releases. Sony’s movie sales are handled by Columbia TriStar Television Distribution, the company’s syndication unit, where a spokesman declined to comment, as did ABC.

In typical fashion, the sales are expected to cover two or three runs under a broadcast window that begins two to three years after initial theatrical release, following homevideo, pay-per-view and pay cable runs. The current titles would be available for airing in 1999 or 2000.

ABC ups buys

ABC has lately stepped up its pace of movie acquisitions under Disney ownership, acquiring Par’s “Mission: Impossible” and others last year. After a prolonged period of bowing out of the high-stakes game, believing that costs don’t justify the returns, the web has seen its primetime ratings performance tumble, and must depend more heavily on movies and event specials to lure viewers.

Of course, it also has Disney’s own theatrical product to feed into regular movie slots as well as the relaunched “Wonderful World of Disney” franchise on Sunday nights.

Sources at NBC and CBS say both opted out of the bidding after the price became too rich, and one network exec said the bid simply reflected each network’s own needs in filling its theatrical pipeline. The Peacock and Eye webs each have dropped one of two movie nights for the fall season.

Fox, fueled by the deep pockets of Rupert Murdoch, has been especially aggressive in bidding for theatricals to fill its Tuesday-night movie slate, upping the ante for everyone.

Fox fast forwards

In addition to grabbing virtually all of sister studio 20th Century Fox’s major films, Fox Broadcasting last month paid an unprecedented $80 million for 10 runs of “The Lost World,” Universal’s “Jurassic Park” sequel. Rival network execs viewed that deal as a loss leader, claiming it will be impossible for Fox to recoup the cost in ad revenues.

The rest of the Sony-ABC lineup consists of “Buddy,” with Rene Russo, “Sunset Park,” “Mary Reilly,” “Matilda,” “Cops and Robbersons,” “Poetic Justice,” “Jury Duty,” “The Second Jungle Book: Mowgli and Baloo” and “Immortal Beloved.”

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