'Indiana Jones' to debut on cable network

It appears Paramount’s “Indiana Jones & the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” will be making its exclusive pay TV debut on Showtime after all.

“Crystal Skull” is the most high-octane of the Par titles that Showtime is negotiating to buy as part of a multiyear renewal of the current theatrical-output deal, which expires on Dec. 31. Paramount and Showtime declined to comment.

Until recently, the Par renewal was a long way from a foregone conclusion: For the last couple of years, Showtime has made clear its disenchantment with laying out more than $100 million a year to buy theatricals in multiyear output deals. Execs at the cabler are frustrated because these pictures are available on DVD and pay-per-view months in advance of their pay TV run.

Indeed, when he took over as Showtime prexy of entertainment in July 2003, Bob Greenblatt had a mandate to put all of his efforts into coming up with scripted original series. The investment has paid off with at least five successful series: “The L Word,” going into its fifth season; “Weeds,” which just landed a fourth-season renewal; “Dexter,” picked up for a third season; and both “Californication” and “The Tudors,” which have drawn second-season pickups.

Scripted originals are a plus for a pay net, but the industry perception is that feevees should season their lineups of original series with at least some fresh features for scheduling within 18 months of theatrical release.

Showtime has the thinnest inventory of theatrical outputs, counting only the titles from Paramount, MGM and Lionsgate. But the network has to fill 11 channels with programming, eight of them Showtime and its multiplexes, plus two Movie Channel siblings and the mini pay network Flix. Even though Par’s Viacom parent bought DreamWorks almost two years ago, HBO still has the pay TV rights to its movies based on an existing output deal that spills over into the next decade.

Showtime may be taking its time on a new contract because it has the exclusive pay TV rights to all of Paramount’s movies released in 2007, which will play on the network throughout 2008 and into the first part of 2009.

And Par has nowhere else to go: HBO and Starz have both said they’re not seeking any more output deals because they’re well positioned with the ones they already have. HBO draws on Warner Bros., 20th Century Fox, Universal, New Line and DreamWorks; Starz has Walt Disney (along with its Touchstone and selective Miramax titles) and Columbia Pictures (and its Screen Gems and some Sony Pictures Classics films).

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