'Grindhouse,' 'Scary,' 'Dixie' pay-TV-rights sold

John Malone’s Starz has bought exclusive pay-TV rights to three movies from the Weinstein Co.: “Grindhouse,” “Scary Movie 4″ and the Dixie Chicks’ docu “Shut Up & Sing.”

The deal is Exhibit A in how difficult the pay-TV marketplace has become for independent distributors: It took the Weinstein Co. nine months to get a premium-cable outlet for “Scary Movie 4,” despite the fact the pic grossed a strapping $90.7 million in U.S. multiplexes when Dimension Pictures released it early last summer.

Starz’s competitors were not candidates for the Weinstein movies. HBO is so heavily stocked with theatrical-output contracts that it’s not buying any more movies from outside. Showtime is shifting away from theatricals, focusing so much on original series like “The Tudors,” “Weeds” and “Dexter” that it’s thinking seriously about not renewing its existing outputs with Paramount, MGM and Lionsgate.

Starz, which is still gung-ho about theatricals, could afford to lay back until the price of “Scary Movie 4″ fell off because time was running down on its availability date in pay TV.

But purchasing “Grindhouse,” directed by Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez, was a no-brainer for Starz, even though the movie has chalked up a disappointing $19.8 million domestically in its first two weeks. Starz has premiered all of Tarantino’s previous movies on pay TV: “Pulp Fiction,” “Jackie Brown” and the two “Kill Bill” pictures. Most of Rodriguez’s output has also made its debut on Starz, including “El Mariachi,” “From Dusk Till Dawn” and “Sin City.”

Starz, which has output deals with Walt Disney/Touchstone/Miramax and Columbia Pictures/Screen Gems, is always searching for independently distributed movies to flesh out its inventory, particularly since its third output partner, Revolution Studios, is winding down.

“Grindhouse” and “Scary Movie 4″ will both premiere on the main Starz network, while “Shut Up & Sing” will kick off on Starz Cinema, the company’s niche network that leans toward independent movies and foreign films.

Starz will be able to play the movies on some or all of its multiplex channels under both the Starz and Encore banners. It will also get the titles for its subscription broadband service Vongo, and for its video-on-demand platform.

After an 18-month exclusive window, Weinstein gets the titles back for five years to sell them to basic cable. Then Starz gets them for a second window of one year. There’s a third Starz window in the deal, but that won’t occur until seven years or so after the second window.

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