Eric Frankel, president of domestic-cable distribution for Warner Bros., is trying to engineer a shotgun marriage between cable networks that are cutthroat competitors.
If Frankel has his way, Warner Bros. will sell the network window to only half of its theatrical movies in a multiyear, partial-output deal to its sister cable networks TBS and TNT. The other half of the output will go to either USA or FX, cable nets that are gung-ho about buying movies in the first network window.
TBS and TNT are willing to sign off on a deal that may strengthen a tough cable rival because they can’t absorb the entire Warner theatrical output. TBS and TNT have bought more blockbuster movies in the past few months — among them “Spider-Man,” “Signs,” “Austin Powers in Goldmember” and “Minority Report” — than any other network, broadcast or cable.
FX or USA would trigger the deal only if Frankel sets up a foolproof mechanism to ensure that TBS and TNT don’t harvest a disproportionate share of the box office winners, leaving the lesser titles to USA or FX. One strategy: Waiting until year’s end and then parceling off the titles by alternating them based on their domestic grosses. For the blockbusters, Frankel would reserve the right to sell an additional set of runs to a broadcast network, creating a blueprint that would funnel more money to Warner Bros. while lowering the license fee to the cable net.
All the parties declined to comment on the Warner Bros. proposal.