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Artisan play on pay

Showtime extends pix pact for 5 more yrs.

NEW YORK — Showtime has locked up exclusive pay TV rights to the sequel of “Dirty Dancing” and the prequel to “The Blair Witch Project.”

Both movies are in pre-production, part of an overall theatrical-output deal engineered by Artisan Entertainment with Showtime that extends an existing deal between the two companies by an extra five years, through 2008.

Both parties declined to discuss license fees, which are computed on a sliding scale based on theatrical rentals of the movies. But various sources said the per-title range should fall between $4 million and $7 million, depending on how much money the movies rake in at the box office.

Cash infusion

Since the two companies said Artisan could deliver a maximum of 133 titles to Showtime over the next eight years, the network could end up funneling anywhere from $532 million to $931 million into Artisan’s coffers over the life of the contract.

Matthew Duda, exec VP of program acquisitions and planning for Showtime Networks, said the Artisan movies “are a good complement to our long-term output deals with Paramount and MGM.”

Showtime has solidified its movie inventory for the next few years, Duda continued. On top of Paramount, MGM and Artisan output, the network will get Dimension Pictures titles through the end of next year and Gramercy titles (including “Traffic”) through the end of 2001.

Fewer features needed

Industry analysts said Showtime needs fewer movies than its pay TV competitors HBO and Starz because it schedules seven original hourlong series each week and commissions up to 35 original movies each year. The cabler also buys unreleased theatricals to flesh out its firstrun lineup.

Duda said he’s convinced theatrical movies will become increasingly less important to a pay TV net as more and more subscribers get digital boxes that offer vast quantities of pay-per-view pics, often as much as five months in advance of their availability to pay TV.

In addition to “Dirty Dancing 2” (a co-production with Miramax, which has the foreign rights) and “Blair Witch: The Early Years,” Artisan’s forthcoming titles include “Novocaine” (Steve Martin, Helena Bonham Carter), “Made” (Vince Vaughn, Jon Favreau), “Soul Survivors” (Wes Bentley) and “Startup.com,” a documentary from D.A. Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus.

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