U seeks ‘Jurassic’ joust for pay rights

Window for pic will start about 15 months after its debut

NEW YORK — Universal Pictures, finding itself in the rare position of controlling a hit movie, “Jurassic Park III,” with no commitment in advance to pay TV, would love to ignite a bidding war for the picture among HBO, Starz! and Showtime.

The negotiations haven’t begun yet for the pay TV window, but the third dino pic is a free ball because it’s not part of Universal’s output deal with Starz! Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Entertainment is the producer, and the Amblin movies that U distributes are not included in the Starz output.

For the two previous “Jurassic Park” movies, the pay TV window was slammed shut by a broadcast network. Fox bought out the pay TV window and a 12-year exclusive broadcast license to “The Lost World: Jurassic Park” for $80 million, and NBC engineered a similar deal, including a buyout of the pay window, for the original “Jurassic Park.”

But Madison Avenue dollars have dried up this summer, causing the worst upfront advertising market in a decade. This dismal economic climate is almost certain to stretch into 2002, guaranteeing that no broadcast network will be eager to pony up the big bucks –$12 million-$15 million — that it would take to blow out the pay window to “Jurassic Park III.” (The pay window for the pic will start about 15 months after its debut in the multiplexes, whereas the broadcast window doesn’t kick in until 33 months from the theatrical premiere.)

Universal will soon find out if a pay TV network is ready to shoulder that tariff for the rights to “Jurassic Park 3.” It certainly won’t be a slam dunk. HBO is well stocked with movies between fall 2002 and spring 2004, the license term of the first pay window of the dino pic. The cabler is also less needy because it has also struck audience paydirt with such original series as “The Sopranos,” “Sex & the City” and “Six Feet Under.”

Showtime is not as flush with theatricals as HBO, but the net commissions 35 original movies a year, and schedules episodes of different original series every night of the week at 10.

Starz! may end up as the logical home for “Jurassic Park III,” not only because it already has the Universal output through 2004 (when HBO takes title to U’s movies) but because it doesn’t program original series, and schedules only about 12 world-premiere movies a year.

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