Crown gems to Halmi

TV movie library sold to RHI Enterprises

Crown Media has sold domestic rights to more than 600 TV movies, including big-budget miniseries “Lonesome Dove,” “Moby Dick,” “Gulliver’s Travels” and “Merlin,” to Robert Halmi’s RHI Enterprises for $160 million.

Robert Routh, media analyst for Jefferies & Co., predicted six weeks ago that Crown, which owns the Hallmark Channel, would fetch $175 million-$200 million for the package.

Crown will approach that total, Routh added, because Hallmark and sister net Hallmark Movie Channel will be able to schedule 60 movies and nine minis from the library over the next two years, which could be worth more than $10 million a year to Crown.

Library sale came one day after Crown named Henry Schleiff prexy-CEO of Crown Media. Revenue from RHI will help Crown retire some of its $1 billion debt, which has kept the company’s stock depressed.

Crown sold international rights to the library last year to a group of investors led by Providence Equity Partners.

To keep chipping away at Crown Media’s debt, Alan Gould, media analyst with Natexis Bleichroeder, said Schleiff’s job will be “to keep the ratings of the Hallmark Channel up and lower the average age of Hallmark’s viewers.” A lower age would allow Hallmark’s sales force to get better rates on Madison Avenue for the network’s 30-second spots.

Routh said more revenues will start coming into Hallmark from cable systems as some were receiving the network free for a couple of years but will have to start paying license fees.

Halmi said RHI plans to set up a distribution company to sell the movies into cable and syndication. Halmi himself produced about one-third of the 600 titles in the library.

Other titles going to RHI include “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea,” “Alice in Wonderland,” “Animal Farm,” “Cleopatra,” “Don Quixote,” “Jason and the Argonauts,” “Noah’s Ark,” “The Odyssey,” “Return to Lonesome Dove” and 10-hour epic “The Tenth Kingdom.”

Salem Partners was Crown’s financial adviser for the transaction.

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