Spike’s ‘Star’ wattage

Cable net pays up to $70 mil for six franchise pics

Spike TV has engineered the biggest movie purchase in the net’s 22-year history, ponying up between $65 million and $70 million for a six-year exclusive deal covering all six of Lucasfilm’s “Star Wars” movies.

NBC Universal’s USA Network and Sci Fi Channel and Turner Broadcasting’s TBS and TNT were in the bidding, helping to drive the price up much higher than the initial estimate four months ago, which put the George Lucas space operas at about $50 million (Daily Variety, June 16).

A spokesman for Spike declined to comment.

The blockbuster in the deal was “Star Wars: Episode III — Revenge of the Sith,” which Spike will get in the first network window in April 2008. That’s the earliest window a cable net has ever landed to a “Star Wars” movie; the first five titles began their TV life on the Fox Network.

Two more recent “Star Wars” pics — “Attack of the Clones” (2002) and “The Phantom Menace” (1999) — have had runs on Fox but have never shown up on cable before. Spike will get them and the original three pics in April 2008.

Spike’s aggressiveness in nailing “Star Wars” was fueled in part by its need to make up Nielsen ground in the future for the loss of World Wrestling Entertainment’s “WWE Raw,” a guaranteed ratings winner every Monday nights for two hours. USA outbid Spike for the rights to “Raw” and started running it Oct. 3 to steroid-pumped ratings. The two-hour “Raw” on Oct. 10 was the second highest-rated program on all of ad-supported cable for the week ended Sunday.

But paying big bucks for a marquee property is not new to the network. Five years ago, Spike, then known as TNN (the National Network), coughed up a staggering $364 million for the rights to reruns of three “Star Trek” series — “Next Generation,” “Deep Space Nine” and “Voyager” — plus the first five “Star Trek” theatrical movies.

When King World, a sister company of Spike, opened the cable marketplace for reruns of “CSI” four years ago, Spike forked over a then-record sum for an off-network hour, $1.6 million an episode.

Two years ago, Spike dropped the ball, allowing A&E to claw its way ahead of all other bidders to capture the rights to “CSI: Miami” for what now looks like a bargain price of $1.02 million an hour. But a year later, Spike threw off all restraints to grab “CSI: NY” reruns, anteing up $1.9 million an episode for the privilege.

The first three movies in the “Star Wars” series — “Star Wars” (1977), “The Empire Strikes Back” (1980) and “Return of the Jedi” (1983) — have played on a number of broadcast and cable networks over the past two decades. But Spike expects to chalk up lots more Nielsen numbers through heavily promoted stunts and marathons.

When HBO plunked down $15 million for exclusive pay TV rights to “Attack of the Clones” in February 2003, it also picked up exclusive windows to the previous four “Star Wars” movies.

The biggest price ever paid for an individual “Star Wars” title was the $80 million paid by the Fox Network for a 10-year exclusive license term for “The Phantom Menace.” In that deal, Fox even bought out the pay TV window so it could get the movie within 18 months of its debut in U.S. theaters.

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