H’w’d double for Premiere

Digital platform to also launch an MGM-branded channel

Ailing German pay TV platform Premiere scored two goals Tuesday by signing a multiyear output deal with MGM and acquiring a film package from Warner Bros. that includes “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.”

Agreement with MGM follows similar output arrangements made with DreamWorks, Fox and Universal since the collapse of parent company Kirch Pay TV in May.

Latest deals are another sign that Hollywood’s most important foreign market is starting to get back on its feet after a couple of down years.

Pact with the Lion provides Premiere with all of MGM’s theatrical fare including upcoming James Bond pic “Die Another Day,” “Legally Blonde” and “Barbershop.”

As part of the agreement, the multichannel digital platform will launch an MGM-branded channel next year. Similar to the two Universal channels that Premiere carries, the outlet will air fare from the Lion’s vast library including movies like “Midnight Cowboy,” “Rocky” and “Terminator.”

The deal was hammered out at last week’s Mipcom TV trade show in Cannes. For the Lion, the carriage deal represents a beachhead into the heart of Europe, a long-pursued goal of the company.

“Our new MGM-branded channel in Germany and Austria is the exclamation point of our extraordinary growth in international networks,” MGM prexy of worldwide TV distribution Jim Griffiths said. “In addition, we are optimistic about Premiere’s resurgence in the pay TV biz and look to our renewed collaboration as a tremendous opportunity to work together. We want to be part of the solution to the problems in Germany, not part of the problem.”

While Premiere has initially settled for a film package from Warners, Premiere chief exec Georg Kofler told Daily Variety he would continue negotiations with that studio next year for a more long-term arrangement.

“We have output deals, we buy film packages, it’s important for us to have a flexible approach,” Kofler said, adding that the move bypassed complicated dealmaking.

Price revision

Kofler would not comment on price but said both agreements were fair and made under new conditions that reflected realistic market prices and were in line with similar deals with other studios.

Hollywood sources said the arrangements with the major studios were negotiated at a 15% to 20% lower rate than previous deals signed four or five years ago. It’s unclear at this point whether Premiere, the only pay platform in Germany, will need to sign additional product deals with Disney, Paramount and Sony.

Premiere will begin offering Warners’ “Harry Potter” on pay-per-view during the Christmas season with a regular pay TV premiere scheduled for early next year.

Premiere also nabbed pay-per-view and pay TV rights to other Warner titles such as German animated hit “The Little Polar Bear,” “Training Day” and “Swordfish.”

For the moment, the broadcaster has only pay-per-view rights to Warners’ megahits “The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring” and “Rush Hour 2,” although Kofler said he expected to get pay TV rights to the films at a later stage.

“After a period of uncertainty, the new Premiere has again become an important and reliable partner in Germany for U.S. studios,” Kofler said.

Jeffrey Schlesinger, prexy of Warner Bros. Intl. TV, added, “By making this deal with Premiere, we are pleased to help them maintain their promise to subscribers to supply the best of Hollywood films in the marketplace and, as a result, aid in their ability to sustain, and possibly grow, their subscriber base.”

Simon Kenny, WBIT’s senior VP for Europe, and Sylvia Rothblum, WBIT’s managing director for German-speaking territories, negotiated the deal with Premiere managing director Hans Seger.

Steadying ship

The two deals are a much-needed signal to potential investors that Premiere is once again a viable player — and an attractive investment.

Six interested groups are circling the paybox, which is undergoing due diligence and holding Q&A sessions with potential buyers.

Kofler said the sale of Premiere was in the advanced stages, adding that he was optimistic a deal would be completed by the end of the year.

The paybox has faced an uphill battle since its digital relaunch in 1999.

Indeed, its failure to attract necessary subscribers helped bankrupt the entire Kirch Group, which lost nearly $1 billion on the venture last year.

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