Cabler inks exclusive deal for Universal titles

NEW YORK — NBC Universal Domestic TV has sold “Ray” to FX in a four-year exclusive deal with three other Universal titles for a total of about $20 million.

In another deal, USA engineered a belated three-year term for Buena Vista TV’s “Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl,” which ABC bought two years ago in the broadcast window. ABC was willing to share the network window because USA will shoulder some of the license fee, which totals well north of $20 million.

The other titles in the FX deal with Universal are “Friday Night Lights,” “White Noise” and “Assault on Precinct 13.” FX takes title to all four movies in fall 2007.

Spokesmen for FX and USA confirmed both deals, but would not comment on the details of the contract.

One advantage for USA in the “Pirates” deal is that the network gets its first run of the movie in the summer of 2006, just in time to ride the tidal wave of marketing and promotion Walt Disney will unleash for the theatrical release of the first “Pirates” sequel, called “Dead Man’s Chest.”

These USA and FX deals are modest in scope and represent the ongoing drive by cable networks to continue buying movies at price levels below the $27 million or so that TBS/TNT and CBS will jointly lay out to share the rights to just one title, “The Longest Yard,” with Adam Sandler (Daily Variety, May 26).

Both USA and FX have adopted the philosophy that, rather than ponying up more than $20 million for one movie, they’d rather use the money to produce a whole year’s worth of original-series episodes, or buy more midrange pictures at much lower license fees.

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