Cabler expands with U, Col pix; also pacts with Madstone

NEW YORK — Turner Classic Movies has gone on a movie-buying binge, picking up 89 titles from Universal, including “Coal Miner’s Daughter” and “Out of Africa,” and 57 pictures from Columbia, led by “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” and “From Here to Eternity.”

The network, which celebrates its 10th anniversary on April 14, has also signed a deal with Madstone Theaters to program eight of the exhibitor’s screens in eight cities with classic movies this summer.

Tom Karsch, senior VP-general manager of TCM, said the Madstone deal “is our attempt to get more young people interested in older movies.” Madstone, Karsch said, tries to set aside one or two of the screens in its multiplexes for “independent films and foreign-language films.” TCM will enhance that specialty mix with a selection from its 5,000-title library made up of pre-1948 pictures from Warner Bros., MGM and RKO Radio.

In another move to attract younger viewers, TCM is wrapping up the details of a partnership with the American Film Institute and movie Web sites like IMDB.

“Our goal is to create the definitive Web site for movies,” Karsch said. “The site will offer not just text information but trailers and movie posters.”

The purchase of a total of 146 movies from Universal and Columbia will swell TCM’s programming expenses from $35.9 million in 2003 to $41.3 million in 2004, according to Kagan World Media.

Unlike most other basic-cable networks, TCM doesn’t accept advertising. The network is forced to rely on only one revenue stream — license fees from cable operators. But that stream delivers a steady flow: Kagan says TCM pocketed $138.4 million from cable operators in 2003 and an estimated $155.5 million in 2004.

The U titles include “The Lost Weekend,” “To Kill a Mockingbird,” “Vertigo,” “Pillow Talk,” “Psycho,” “All Quiet on the Western Front,” “High Plains Drifter,” “The Birds,” four “Road” pictures with Bing Crosby and Bob Hope and a group of Abbott & Costello movies.

From Col, TCM gets, among other titles, “It Happened One Night,” “Kramer vs. Kramer,” “Oliver,” “Gandhi,” “All the King’s Men,” “A River Runs Through It,” “The Last Picture Show,” “Fail Safe,” “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,” “Cat Ballou” and “Born Yesterday.”

Karsch said that TCM has become the trademark leader in cable for classic movies because its former rival, AMC, has stocked up on more recent titles from the 1980s and 1990s.

AMC hopes that viewers forget that those initials used to stand for American Movie Classics; buying newer movies became a necessity for AMC when it started accepting advertising. Classic movies attract older audiences, which Madison Avenue shuns, reasoning that old people are so set in their ways they can’t be persuaded to switch to an alternative product.

With no advertisers to placate, Karsch said he embraces the old folks who dote on TCM. “There are so few entertainment options out there for older viewers,” he said. TCM’s 50-plus demographic becomes a selling point to cable operators, who need to appeal to the whole spectrum of the audience.

TCM expects to reach 70 million cable and satellite subscribers by the end of the year.

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