Kinowelt, WB pact

German co. gets free-TV rights to Warner pix, skeins

BERLIN — All of a sudden Germany is a hot market for U.S. movies and TV shows — again.

In a groundbreaking agreement with an upstart player on the international TV scene, Warner Bros. has inked a multiyear free-TV output deal with Germany’s leading film distribber, Kinowelt.

The deal covers free-TV rights for the 70 Warner Bros. movies released between 1996 and 1999, and all series, telefilms and miniseries from the 1999-2000 through the 2001-2002 seasons as well as selected documentary and library programming such as “Gone With the Wind.”

Kinowelt, which owns no TV outlets of its own in Germany, will subsequently sublicense the programming to broadcasters in Germany.

The deal is worth in excess of $300 million over the three-year period, making it one of the largest deals for a Hollywood major in that territory.

While the appetite in Europe for American programming has slipped since the heady days of the mid-’90s, this agreement suggests that the falloff may have been exaggerated.

“This is an unprecedented deal for Warner Bros. as it is both the largest free-TV deal we have concluded to date in the territory, and we are aligning with a new player in the market,” Warner Bros. Intl. Television president Jeffrey Schlesinger told Daily Variety.

Other Teutonic media players also had bid on the Warners output, including the Kirch Group, RTL, ProSieben and licensing outfit Intertainment, which has a pan-Euro theatrical distribution deal with Warner Bros.

Most of the other Hollywood studios are aligned with either RTL or Kirch in long-term TV output deals sealed several years ago. Warner product had recently been languishing, with only a short-term pact with Herbert Kloiber’s TeleMunchen in place.

This is the first time in several years that the Warner output deal has gone to a theatrical distribution company.

“Having another player in Germany — especially one with regional ambitions — cannot but help enliven things there for the American suppliers,” said one veteran international observer, referring to Kinowelt’s appearance on the TV scene.

Schlesinger added: “While much has been speculated about the extent of the German appetite for American programming, this deal sends the message loud and clear that Germany is alive, well and still hungry for quality American programming.”

Among the titles that Kinowelt will control in Germany are “The Matrix,” “Wild Wild West,” “Lethal Weapon 4,” “Batman & Robin” and “You’ve Got Mail” as well as upcoming series from “ER” exec producer John Wells, “The West Wing” and “Third Watch.” The studio’s landmark 10-hour docu series “Millennium” is also among the licensed product.

The deal, which was the subject of speculation last week in German media circles, was unveiled Friday in Frankfurt and was negotiated by Schlesinger and Kinowelt co-chairmen and CEOs Rainer and Michael Koelmel.

The 15-year-old Kinowelt has been on a tear since its listing on the hot Frankfurt exchange, Neue Markt, in May 1998.

It recently bought a 20% stake in Canada’s Alliance Atlantis in order to secure a foothold in the North American market, and is in the process of branching out into the eastern European distribution scene.

Last October, Kinowelt inked a multiyear output deal worth $200 million with Warner Bros. sibling New Line. It has acquired several film libraries since.

“With the Warner Bros. titles plus our New Line and Miramax films and hits such as Artisan’s ‘The Blair Witch Project,’ we have around a 30% share of the German market, and can now package these titles together,” Rainer Koelmel told Daily Variety.

“We are the market leader theatrically and are now in a strong position with TV.”

Kinowelt’s stock price closed Friday at 82 Euros ($79), down from its $86 opening price.

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