MGM floats pic scheme

Studio seeks $40 mil upfront for 5-film package

NEW YORK — MGM is asking the major broadcast and cable networks to start the bidding at $40 million on a package of five highly touted forthcoming theatrical movies.

In a highly unusual proposal, Jim Griffiths, MGM’s president of worldwide TV distribution, is giving the network that makes the best offer a lock on the exclusive network window to five pictures that are either in the middle of production or in pre-production for a later start.

The five are Ridley Scott’s “Hannibal” (Anthony Hopkins, Julianne Moore in the “Silence of the Lambs” sequel), John McTiernan’s “Rollerball” (Chris Klein, LL Cool J), Barry Levinson’s “Outlaws” (Bruce Willis, Billy Bob Thornton, Cate Blanchett), John Woo’s “Windtalkers” (Nicolas Cage) and Tom Shadyac’s “Dragonfly.”

Peacock edge

Sources say NBC will almost certainly have the most interest in the package among the Big Four broadcast networks because it’s the only one that doesn’t have a major-studio sister company feeding it theatricals in a steady flow. ABC can rely on product from Touchstone and Walt Disney, CBS will now tap into Paramount’s titles as a result of the Viacom merger, and Fox is a sibling of 20th Century Fox. ABC also has an output deal that gives it access to all of the theatricals coming from DreamWorks.

The only recent precedent for the MGM offer is the output deal New Regency struck with CBS more than a year ago for the five movies Regency distributed in 1999: “Entrapment,” “Fight Club,” “Pushing Tin,” “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and “Simply Irresistible.”

But Griffiths stresses that the MGM proposal is not an output arrangement because the studio is putting on the table only its biggest-budgeted movies, not its more modest titles.

Pay to play

That’s why MGM is asking the network that makes the winning bid to ante up a nonrefundable guarantee of at least $40 million. In the unlikely event that all five pictures fail to reach a mass audience, the studio will at least pocket the $40 mil.

But $40 million has become almost the standard price for just one movie that breaks through and grosses upwards of $200 million in U.S. multiplexes. MGM’s pitch is that a couple of the five have blockbuster potential, so the network would not be taking much risk in ponying up the guarantee.

MGM will apply the $40 million to the domestic gross of the theatricals: The network wouldn’t have to start paying more money until an agreed-on boxoffice figure is reached.

For any money that comes in to the theaters beyond the contractual figure, the network would pay an average of 15% of domestic boxoffice in license fees.

In a separate deal, MGM has sold its romantic comedy “Return to Me,” with David Duchovney and Minnie Driver, to ABC in a four-year license term for about $4.5 million.

Griffiths says the “Return to Me” contract is unusual in that it gives ABC the flexibility to schedule runs of the movie on its sister networks the Disney Channel and Lifetime at various times throughout the four years.

Flexible arrangement

This flexible arrangement could also apply to the five-picture package MGM is now trumpeting. For the right price, the winning network could get the right to sub-license the MGM titles to a cable network in a shared window within the term of the contract, which typically runs for four years.

For example, CBS could keep the pictures within the family by taking its two runs and then funneling the movies to its sister networks, UPN and TNN: the Nashville Network before the contract expires. Or Fox could carve out a window for its FX sibling, which has begun to buy a number of male-oriented theatricals, both exclusively and in shared windows.

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