WB, UK cable quartet ink PPV pact

LONDON — Four U.K. cable operators have inked a pay-per-view movie deal with Warner Bros., the first time a Hollywood studio has bypassed satcaster British Sky Broadcasting, the cable industry’s key programming supplier.

The deal was widely expected to be the first concluded by cablers, because Time Warner has been in dispute with BSkyB-parent News Corp. A year ago, Time Warner blocked Fox’s news service from New York. BSkyB retaliated by dropping the Warner Channel just prior to its British launch.

The non-exclusive deal with Warner was struck by Britain’s second largest cabler, Telewest, as well as operators NTL, General Cable and Diamond Cable.

The country’s biggest operator, Cable & Wireless Communications, is said to be deliberating whether it will come on board.

CWC is thought to be considering joining BSkyB’s pay-per-view plans, but should it opt into the Warner deal, as the contract reportedly provides for, it would help maximize the cable industry’s growing clout with the satcaster.

It is understood, however, that the four operators are pressing ahead on negotiations with other studios and plan to launch as many as four analog pay-per-view channels before Christmas, regardless of whether CWC is involved.

BSkyB has previously indicated it too will launch pay-per-view channels before Christmas, but that may be delayed until next year. BSkyB has not yet announced any PPV deals, but it is assumed, for obvious reasons, that it has Fox’s product.

Recent Warner movies include “Contact,” “Batman and Robin” and “Conspiracy Theory.” Fox pics include “Volcano,” the big Brit film of the year “The Full Monty,” and the upcoming “Titanic.”

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