'Fahrenheit' pay event irks DVD distrib

Michael Moore’s dream of getting “Fahrenheit 9/11″ onto television the night before the presidential election is close to fruition.

Documaker is producing a three-hour pay-per-view event that will run Nov. 1, the night before Election Day.

“The Michael Moore Pre-Election Special” will consist of a screening of “Fahrenheit 9/11″ bookended by interviews with politically committed celebrities who’ll talk about the charges leveled in the movie and the importance of voting in the presidential election of 2004.

TV sources said In Demand, the largest pay-per-view distributor in the U.S., will transmit the special between 8 and 11 p.m. EST (5 and 8 p.m. PST) and charge a fee of $9.95.

But a rep for the “Fahrenheit” camp said a deal was not in place: “This is not true. There are no signed contracts. DVD sales are going through the roof.”

When Moore first said last month he hoped to air “Fahrenheit” on TV the night before the election (Daily Variety, Sept. 6), he noted that its homevid home, Columbia TriStar, has the right to block any small-screen broadcast so close to the Oct. 5 DVD release.

Homevid distribs don’t like the idea of competing against pay TV while they are trying to sell units, naturally.

So the deal with In Demand contains several points meant to assuage Sony’s fears.

For instance, In Demand will be restricted from doing any marketing and promotion of the special until Oct. 24. Calling it “the Michael Moore Pre-election Special” instead of “Fahrenheit 9/11″ is another way to differentiate it from the DVD.

(The usual exclusive videostore window for a movie with the sales potential of the $120-million-grossing “Farenheit 9/11″ would run from 45 to 60 days, or longer.)

Sony would not comment about shipments or first-day sales of “Fahrenheit 9/11″ on Tuesday. Typically, studios ship between 1.3 million and 1.75 million DVD copies of major theatrical releases to retailers.

Sources believe the company shipped on the high side of that range to rental stores and roughly the same or a slightly higher number — about 1.5 million to 2 million copies — to the sell-through outlets.

Based on those shipments, industry sources estimate that somewhere between 500,000 and 750,000 copies were purchased by consumers the first day, with that number likely doubling through the first week. If that’s so, DVD sales revenue would be about $19 million to $30 million for the first week.

In its deal with Fellowship Adventure Group, Bob and Harvey Weinstein’s company which owns “Fahrenheit” rights, In Demand also has bought the usual PPV window of the special, which will run multiple times during December and January.

Moore bowed out of the best doc Oscar race to allow the possibility of a television run despite Sony’s reluctance. Acad rules render docs ineligible if they appear on TV within nine months of their theatrical release.

In a counter example, Robert Greenwald, the TV-movie producer, pulled his feature docu “Uncovered: The Whole Truth About the Iraq War” from a scheduled PPV run this month precisely because he had submitted the movie to the Academy and realized that a PPV showing was verboten (Daily Variety, Sept. 12).

Of course, not being eligible for the docu Oscar also allows Moore and the Weinsteins to focus instead on pushing “Fahrenheit” for Oscar’s top prize: best picture.

(Scott Hettrick contributed to this report.)

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