CBS in pix time share

NEW YORK — In an unprecedented theatrical-movie deal with Warner Bros., CBS and Time Warner’s cable networks, TBS and TNT, have agreed to share 15 titles within a first broadcast window of four years.

Sources say TBS will get the first multiple run — before CBS does — of three of Warner Bros.’ most highly touted summer releases: “Batman & Robin,” “Contact” (Jodie Foster; directed by Robert Zemeckis ) and “Conspiracy Theory” (Mel Gibson; directed by Richard Donner).

But six months after the TBS plays, CBS will open a 15-month window to schedule each of the three biggies for one primetime run. As soon as CBS takes the primetime run, each picture goes back to TBS for further multiple runs during the remainder of the four-year license term.

But for some of the Warner Bros. movies in the package, such as “Father’s Day,” “Murder at 1600” and “Addicted to Love,” CBS goes to the head of the line, getting the premiere for one run within a 12-month period, following which the pictures revert to TBS or TNT for the rest of the contract.

In a separate deal, Warner Bros. has created a dual window for TBS and the Fox network for “Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery,” in a pattern exactly like that of the CBS deal for “Batman & Robin”: TBS first for six months, then Fox for about 15 months, then back to TBS for the final two-plus years. Fox also is negotiating a window for Tim Burton’s “Mars Attacks,” which Warner Bros. announced earlier this year as going to TBS for the first broadcast window.

Four more pictures in the CBS deal — “Michael,” “Absolute Power,” “The American President” and “The Shawshank Redemption” — are already committed to a first broadcast window on TBS or TNT, based on previous Turner announcements. So the carving out of a one-run showing for CBS represents a change in the original Turner gameplan to keep these titles at TBS and TNT exclusively for the full four-year license term.

But sources say CBS has lifted a huge expense burden off Turner’s shoulders by ponying up about $60 million for the 15 titles in the package. That $60 million is a license fee that Turner would have had to pay its sister company, Warner Bros., to get the exclusive four-year window, on top of the high-eight-figure total TBS and TNT are already paying for their participation in the 15-title deal.

For CBS, a network source says, “This is an imaginative way for us to get access to some good theatrical movies.” CBS has to do creative deals like this one, even if it doesn’t get some of the biggest titles first, because it’s facing a movie landscape where:

The hit movies from Disney, Touchstone and Hollywood Pictures, such as “Ransom,” “The Rock” and “Hunchback of Notre Dame,” go automatically to Disney-owned ABC;

The big 20th Century Fox theatricals like “Independence Day” and “Speed 2: Cruise Control” get funneled directly to the Fox network; and

Universal movies like “Casino” end up bypassing the broadcast networks and going exclusively to the USA Network. USA has pushed Universal to supply it with fresh movies, a demand that will escalate when U, which owns 50% of the channel, buys the other 50% of USA from Viacom in the aftermath of a Delaware Chancery Court order.

Faced with the disappearance of Warner Bros. theatricals into the vaults of TBS and TNT, CBS reopened negotiations with Warners and cobbled together this new strategy.

By letting CBS and Fox into the first-broadcast-window tent, Ted Turner appears to be backing off from his earlier boasts about elevating the status of TBS and TNT on Madison Avenue by trying to corner the exclusive market on theatrical movies.

But sources say Turner is still on a movie-buying binge, most recently bidding for the rights to “The Lost World: Jurassic Park.” Turner finally dropped out when Fox upped the ante to a humongous $80 million for a 12-year exclusive deal earlier this week.

“I liken the movie-sharing deal between CBS and TBS to the way sports deals are done these days,” says one studio source. “The NFL sells Monday-night games to ABC, Sunday-afternoon games to NBC and Fox and Sunday-night games to ESPN and TNT.”

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