Beneficial output deals keep cabler in green

HBO will harvest a record 12 theatrical movies from 2005 that each grossed more than $100 million in U.S. theaters.

Starting with 20th Century Fox’s “Robots,” which chalked up $128 million in domestic box office, the movies will flow to HBO, its Cinemax sibling and their 13 multiplex channels throughout this year and into 2007.

HBO gets the year’s biggest U.S. grosser in Fox’s “Star Wars: Episode III — Revenge of the Sith” (at $380.3 million), as well as Warners’ “Harry Potter & the Goblet of Fire” ($289.7 million), plus four others that each pocketed more than $200 million: U’s “King Kong,” New Line’s “Wedding Crashers,” and Warners’ “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” and “Batman Begins.”

The five other $100 million-plus grossers in 2005 that HBO will pick up are: Fox’s “Fantastic Four,” “Mr. & Mrs. Smith” and “Walk the Line”; DreamWorks’ “Madagascar”; and U’s “The 40-Year-Old Virgin.”

The dozen 2005 blockbusters put HBO well ahead of its two pay TV rivals. Starz gets five that reaped $100 million at U.S. multiplexes, including Disney’s “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,” which racked up $289.8 million. Showtime picks up only two: “War of the Worlds,” which wound up the fourth highest-grossing movie of the year in the U.S., at $234.28 million, and “The Longest Yard” — both from Paramount.

“All of the planets have converged for HBO, which has chosen the right movie studios to do output deals with,” said Bob Levi, a TV consultant and former president of worldwide planning and acquisitions for Turner Broadcasting.

Levi said HBO will be able to get 280 individual exhibition slots for each of the titles for use across all 15 HBO/Cinemax channels, covering a period of about 14 months in the first pay window. Each of those slots could encompass three runs of the movie if HBO and Cinemax schedule the runs within a 24-hour period.

Theatrical movies have lost some of their pay TV cachet, victimized by ancillary markets like DVD/homevideo and video-on-demand pay-per-view, which have ballooned in the last few years. But HBO still relies on movies to fill the timeslots of up to 65% of its schedule.

It was a no-brainer for HBO to renew its output deals with Warner Bros., its Time Warner sibling, and Fox, and sign new contracts with Universal and another sister company, New Line. HBO also has ongoing relationships with DreamWorks and Regency.

In addition to “Narnia,” Starz gets Col’s “Hitch” and “Fun With Dick & Jane” along with Disney’s “Chicken Little” and “The Pacifier.”

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