Mouse seeing Starz!

'Monsters,' Disney toons find pay TV home

NEW YORK — “Monsters, Inc.” and a whole batch of forthcoming Disney animated theatricals are journeying to a new pay cable destination: John Malone’s Starz!.

The Starz! deal represents a first for Mouse animated movies. Previously, the pictures initially went to the Disney Channel. But in the last few years, that venue has transformed itself from a pay TV network to a basic-cable channel, creating the potential for the Starz! deal.

Starz! became the logical outlet for the animated movies because it has a long-term output deal with Disney for its theatrical releases from Touchstone, Miramax Films, Hollywood Pictures and the live-action product from Walt Disney Pictures.

Neither Disney nor Starz! would discuss the financial terms, but one source said that, as a rough rule of thumb, Starz! will pay about 40% of the domestic rentals of the animated pictures, with a cap at $18 million for any one title.

Except for “Monsters, Inc.,” Starz! won’t start running the Disney animated product until 2004. So Disney’s full-length cartoons “Lilo & Stitch” and “Treasure Planet,” both to be released later this year, will not be included in the contract.

The Starz! deal and Disney’s recent experiments with selling some of its animated movies to the pay-per-view window for the first time represent aggressive efforts by the studio to harvest more revenue from some of its most lucrative pictures.

Bob Leighton, president of Starz Encore Entertainment, said Starz! has big expectations for the pictures “because they represent a new breed of Disney animation. These cartoons used to be aimed strictly at the kids, but now their humor is more sophisticated.” Kids don’t have to drag adults to the multiplex to see these movies anymore, Leighton explained — adults are going willingly.

Starz! also has secured the subscription-video-on-demand rights to the animated movies. These rights allow the network to sell them to cable operators in a platform that would allow subscribers, for an extra monthly fee, to call the pictures up at any time and stop being a slave to the network’s schedule.

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