Pathe eyes PPV bow for loitering ‘Lolita’

DBS, Showtime in running, no Request or Viewers Choice

Adrian Lyne’s controversial new film version of Vladimir Nabokov’s “Lolita” may end up making its U.S. debut on satellite-delivered pay-per-view.

A spokesman for DirecTV, the direct broadcast satellite distributor now reaching about 3.4 million homes, said DirecTV has held talks with Pathe, the movie’s owner, and “we’re very interested in making ‘Lolita’ available to our subscribers.”

Another DBS distributor, Jim Ramo, president of TVN Entertainment, said, “We’d have no problem playing ‘Lolita.’ ” TVN is distributing to cable systems a low-cost, digital lineup of 32 pay-per-view movie channels.

His main concern, Ramo said, is that, because “Lolita” will premiere on TVN instead of in theaters, there’ll be no multi-million-dollar marketing campaign behind the movie to make the audience familiar with it. TVN is accustomed to showing theatrically released movies that come to pay-per-view six months later as pre-sold commodities.

Showtime also in running

Pathe also has held talks with Showtime, which could run “Lolita” either before or after a pay-per-view window, depending on the license fee the network is willing to pay, sources said.

Sources familiar with the movie’s troubled history — Lyne completed it more than a year ago — said “Lolita” could get a deal for theatrical release from one of the smaller, independent distributors. But the guarantees are only in the $2 million range and Pathe would have to come up with the marketing costs, making theatrical release a risky proposition.

Cool mil at stake

Industry analysts said that on DirecTV “Lolita” could gross as much as $1 million if the distributor showcased the movie as an event, based on the reputations of Lyne (the director of “Fatal Attraction” and “Indecent Proposal”) and of lead actor Jeremy Irons (an Academy Award winner for “Reversal of Fortune”), as well as the fact that a movie that cost $50 million to produce was getting its Stateside premiere on pay-per-view. No movie with such a pedigree has ever bypassed theaters and gone directly to pay-per-view, according to various sources.

If 3% of DirecTV’s 3.4 million subscriber base paid, say, $9.95 for “Lolita,” the gross would come to about $1 million, half of which would go to Pathe and half to DirecTV.

The problem for Pathe is that the two biggest DBS distributors, Viewer’s Choice and Request TV, say they’re not interested in buying “Lolita,” mainly because of the plot, which depicts a long-running affair between a middle-aged man, played by Irons, and a 14-year old “nymphet” (as Nabokov refers to her).

A bit of concern

While he praises the movie’s acting, direction and photography, “I have some concern over the content,” says Michael Klein, senior VP of programming for Viewer’s Choice. “The film is really depicting a sexual relationship that in U.S. law amounts to statutory rape.”

Huge Panero, president and CEO of Request TV, said he hasn’t seen the movie or sat in on any sales pitches from Pathe. “But I wouldn’t carry it because I have a finite amount of movie inventory,” he continues. “The movies that do well on pay-per-view are the ones that are heavily promoted when they appear in the theaters.”

Dodged the NC-17 tag

Panero also acknowledges that the “pedophilia” theme is a factor in his inclination to steer clear of “Lolita.” Despite the theme, the MPAA has given the movie an R rating, rather than an NC-17.

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