Cabler starts airing skein in fall 2004

A&E has engineered the costliest programming deal in its history, ponying up $1.025 million an hour for exclusive cable rights to reruns of the hit primetime series “CSI: Miami.”

Since A&E’s commitment is for eight years of episodes, the network could end up writing a check to distributor King World for close to $200 million if CBS continues to commission 24 hours a year of “CSI: Miami” through August 2010.

Without commenting on the license fee, Abbe Raven, executive VP and general manager of A&E, said, “If anybody in the industry doubts that A&E is a player for powerful contemporary shows, this deal should settle those doubts. A&E is in a very different place these days.”

In the last year and a half, A&E has suffered Nielsen declines in both total viewers and key demographic categories (people 18-49 and 25-54).

Addressing problem

“We’re moving aggressively and quickly” to address the ratings slippage, Raven said. Late last year, A&E paid NBC close to $800,000 an episode for exclusive cable rights to reruns of “Crossing Jordan.” And earlier this month, A&E forked over $20 million to Miramax for exclusive windows to theatrical movies such as “Good Will Hunting,” “Shakespeare in Love,” “Bridget Jones’s Diary” and “Pulp Fiction” (Daily Variety, April 7).

Turner Broadcasting was in the hunt for “CSI: Miami,” but it tried to convince King World to throw in parent series “CSI.” TNN, which like King World is owned by Viacom, has the rights to “CSI.” Turner’s argument to KW was that “CSI” pulls in more females than males on CBS, making it off-brand on TNN, which has renamed itself “the first network for men,” planning even to change its name to Spike in two months.

But TNN, which paid the record price of $1.6 million an episode for “CSI,” told KW firmly that it loves “CSI” and wants to keep it.

Fall ’04 bow set

A&E will start running “CSI: Miami” in fall 2004 as a once-a-week show, drawing on episodes from the first two seasons on CBS. The show becomes available as a five-a-weeker in fall 2006. For the 2006-07 and 2007-08 seasons, A&E will have to share “CSI: Miami” with TV stations throughout the country, which will take it for weekend play.

Roger King, CEO of King World, negotiated the “CSI: Miami” deal with Raven and her boss Nick Davatzes, president-CEO of the A&E TV Networks.

“CSI: Miami” is a production of Bruckheimer TV, CBS Prods. and Alliance Atlantis.

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