Britain’s Ch. 5 plans to counter Columbia writ

LONDON — Britain’s new terrestrial, Channel 5, plans to counter a writ issued by Columbia Pictures to stop C5 from broadcasting the studio’s films on satellite with a writ of its own next week.

The C5 writ will seek unspecified damages from Columbia. Columbia’s writ — which was issued in London May 7 — argues that the channel does not own the rights to broadcast the studio’s films outside the U.K. and that satellite carries C5’s signal abroad, in particular to Ireland.

C5 chief exec David Elstein said: “All of our 20 suppliers have accepted that we would use every single form of distribution available.”

“Columbia have not given us any reason for their action. We’re puzzled by their behavior and so we’re counter-suing. We also invited them to take all of their films back, but they have declined.”

Elstein added that soon all of Britain’s terrestrial broadcasters would be seeking satellite carriage and that he thought Columbia’s own people in London were “utterly bemused” by the studio’s writ.

C5 recently acquired carriage on the Astra 1D satellite in order to boost its reach in Britain, currently at about 50% of households. C5 has said it holds free-to-air rights to broadcast its movies on satellite providing they are aired simultaneous to their terrestrial broadcast.

At present, C5’s viewer rating share is hovering at around 2.5%. Its stated goal is to reach 5% by the end of its first year — audience that would likely be taken primarily from the ITV network, the U.K.’s No. 1 commercial broadcaster.

ITV is understood to be hoping Columbia’s move prompts 20th Century Fox, Warner and Universal to take another look at their film deals with C5.

C5’s main shareholders are the British media groups Pearson and United News & Media, and the Luxembourg-based broadcaster CLT.

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