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MGM bonds U>Direct

Despite Fox deal, 'World' to bypass BSkyB

LONDON — MGM has sold U.K. pay-per-view rights for “The World Is Not Enough” to independent service U>Direct films, snubbing British pay TV leader BSkyB.

The timing is striking given MGM’s foreign theatrical distribution deal with Fox, which kicks in as soon as Nov. 1. Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. owns Fox and 37% of BSkyB.

BSkyB’s own PPV service, Sky Box Office, wanted the Bond film, but was outmatched by U>Direct’s offer, which includes a sizable minimum guarantee paid upfront. Sky acquires films by offering a proportion of revenue to distributors, with no minimum guarantee.

Sky not so high

The acquisition is another move that lessens BSkyB’s dominance over the U.K.’s multichannel film market. Universal Studios, in spite of its first-run deal on the Sky movie webs, recently teamed with cabler NTL to form a library movie channel, the Studio (Daily Variety, Oct. 2).

MGM has a long-running relationship with U>Direct, whose 11 film channels are only available on BSkyB’s Sky Digital platform, alongside Sky Box Office.

When U>Direct Films was launched last year, MGM’s “The Man in the Iron Mask” was the first movie it presented. It is currently showing “The Thomas Crown Affair”; “The World Is Not Enough” will bow next month.

Piece of ‘Pie’

Major releases like these and “American Pie” are complemented on U>Direct, owned and operated by the Digital Broadcasting Co. (DBC), by a large number of firstrun independent product and some library movies.

“We aim to provide a broad selection of movies and to co-exist with Sky’s film channels. With these high-profile releases, our intention is to attract more viewers to our service who can watch our independent films as well,” said chief exec of DBC Richard Brooke, formerly group finance director at BSkyB.

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