ABC, Fox, USA ink separate deals with Buena Vista TV

NEW YORK — Reese Witherspoon’s family-friendly bigscreen hit “Sweet Home Alabama” has brought together some strange bedfellows.

ABC, Fox and USA have signed separate deals with Buena Vista TV to share the network-TV rights to the Disney pic. Industry observers say they can’t remember these three networks — fierce competitors with each other — ever banding together to share in the purchase of broadcast rights. All of the parties to the deal declined comment.

Because just about every broadcast and cable network was interested in buying “Alabama,” Buena Vista was able to snare contractual commitments that will catapult the usual benchmark of success — 15% of the final domestic box office figure — to 17% or 18%.

So if “Alabama” ends up grossing as much as $150 million in U.S. multiplexes, Buena Vista could pocket upwards of $27 million in license fees from the three network buyers for an overall term of five years.

After its exclusive 18-month pay-TV run on Starz, ABC gets at least two primetime runs of “Alabama” in a one-year window, beginning in May 2005. Fox then comes in for a year. For the final three years of the deal, USA gathers in the multiple runs of the movie.

The big payday harvested by “Alabama” is a strong indication that, despite the depressed marketplace for theatrical movies in the network window, a PG-13 comedy featuring one of the hottest actors in the business can still energize broadcast and cable buyers into bidding up the prices.

Two other movies expected in the next few weeks to fetch big bucks in the network window are “Red Dragon” from Universal and “My Big Fat Greek Wedding,” which HBO is selling domestically.

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