DirecTV commits: originals in

Satcaster strikes two-year deal with Action Adventure Network

DirecTV is going where no domestic satcaster has gone before — the frontier of exclusive original programming.

DirecTV has struck a two-year deal with Action Adventure Network (AAN), a new production entity comprising Telescene Film Group, Richmel Prods. and Goodman/Rosen Prods., to produce original telefilms and series to be offered by DirecTV as pay-per-view titles. The deal marks the first major commitment to original series programming by a domestic direct broadcast satellite TV provider.

The AAN partners already have inked production agreements tied to the DirecTV deal with Francis Ford Coppola’s American Zoetrope, screenwriter/director Steven de Souza, and John Landis and Leslie Belzberg’s St. Clare Entertainment.

The first titles are expected to debut on DirecTV next summer. As with most distribution deals for original programming, the AAN partners aim to profit down the road by selling the rerun rights to the series to other TV outlets once DirecTV’s exclusive two-year window is up.

DirecTV officials are looking to original programming as a means of helping differentiate the 3-year-old sat-TV service from its DBS and cable competitors. Hughes Electronics-owned DirecTV is the leading domestic DBS provider, having reached the 3 million subscriber-mark earlier this year.

“We’ve found that over time, one of the big differentials for our service is our pay-per-view offerings,” said Stephanie Campbell, senior VP of programming for DirecTV. “We already offer nearly every pay-per-view movie, so we’ve been looking around for a long time for a way to do original programming on a pay-per-view basis. It will add breadth to the product we offer subscribers.”

DirecTV will offer the AAN programs for $2.99 a pop, its standard pay-per-view fee for feature films. DirecTV will not have an ownership stake in the programming, which will be financed on a project-by-project basis by the AAN partners.

“It behooves any producer these days to explore new markets and new ways of doing business,” said Bruce Moccia, executive VP of Montreal-based Telescene. “We think (the DirecTV deal) represents a terrific opportunity.”

Each of the eight series will be introduced with a two-hour premiere episode, budgeted along the lines of a network telefilm at $3 million apiece, and followed up with 20 hourlong episodes. The AAN partners aim to launch four series in 1998 and four more in 1999.

Among the first projects on tap for AAN is Coppola’s contemporary remake of “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” set in Hong Kong. St. Clare Entertainment is at work on a update of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s novel “The Lost World,” and de Souza is eyeing a redo of “Gulliver’s Travels.”

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