NEW YORK — A&E has engineered one of the biggest theatrical-movie buys in its history, forking over about $20 million for 45 titles from Miramax.
The box office winners in the package like “Good Will Hunting,” “Shakespeare in Love,” “Bridget Jones’s Diary” and “Pulp Fiction” will come to A&E after they finish exclusive runs on a broadcast network. A&E will get them in short windows averaging 12 months.
But A&E will get three of the movies — “In the Bedroom,” “The Shipping News” and “Iris” — exclusively in the first network window on two-year license terms. For two other titles, “Chocolat” and “Reservoir Dogs,” A&E will get only the basic-cable premiere, sharing their runs with a broadcast net, which will get the first play.
“We plan to treat these movies as special events,” said A&E exec VP- general manager Abbe Raven, who declined to comment on specific license fees.
Raven said she chose the movies with an eye toward their appeal to “the upscale, well-educated viewer that A&E speaks to.” She said she’s actively seeking more movies and is willing to settle for shorter windows, not only because the license fees will be lower but because “we’ll end up with a greater diversity of titles, which will allow us to keep refreshing our movie inventory.”
Even if A&E decides to create a weekly movie night in primetime, Raven said that the bigger titles will probably still get special-event treatment when they premiere on the network, with subsequent runs shifting to the regularly scheduled slot. “We don’t want these movies to get lost as just another title in a movie night,” she said.
Raven also plans to do tie-ins surrounding the movies, such as a “Biography” hour on Iris Murdoch, the British novelist and subject of the “Iris” biopic, or a documentary on Jane Austen when “Mansfield Park,” another title in the Miramax deal, hits the A&E sked.
Movies will be one of the weapons in A&E’s arsenal to turn around its slumping Nielsen ratings, along with original scripted series like “MI5,” which kicks off this summer; this week’s four-hour miniseries “Napoleon”; and batches of new documentaries for summer and the 2003-04 season.
The Walt Disney Co., which owns Miramax, also owns 37.5% of A&E, but Rick Sands, chief operating officer of Miramax Films, said that “the transaction was strictly arm’s length. A&E had no advantage, no leg up, over any other cable network.”
To reinforce his point, Sands said that, just in the last 10 days, Miramax sold “Chicago” to NBC and its sister cable network Bravo, and “Gangs of New York” to USA Network.
Other titles in the Miramax/A&E deal include “Life Is Beautiful,” “Kate & Leopold,” “The Crying Game,” the Kenneth Branagh “Hamlet,” “Bullets Over Broadway,” “The Importance of Being Earnest” and “Muriel’s Wedding.”
The first titles become available to A&E later this year, and Miramax movies will be flowing to the network through 2010.