Disney buys rights from Warner Bros.

Disney’s SoapNet has engineered the highest-visibility programming deal in its seven-year history, ponying up more than $30 million for exclusive cable-TV rights to reruns of Warner Bros. dramas “The OC” and “One Tree Hill.”

The per-episode price of each show, about $175,000, is the most that the web has ever paid for a series.

“SoapNet is the logical place for these two shows because they’re both serialized dramas,” said Bill Carroll, VP and director of programming for Katz TV.

Carroll said serials like “OC” and “Tree” tend to do poorly in reruns, making them a tough sell to bigger mass-audience cable networks like TNT, USA and FX.

SoapNet will begin playing “OC” every weekday evening at 6, preceded by “Tree” at 5, beginning April 9. “Beverly Hills 90210,” the previous occupant of the 5 and 6 p.m. slots, will shift to 3 and 4 p.m.

“OC” is winding up its fourth, and last, season on Fox, where it racked up a total of 92 hourlong episodes. “Tree” is also in its fourth season, having begun life on the WB and moved to successor the CW, which has made no decision on whether to renew it for a fifth.

SoapNet general manager Deborah Blackwell said that the net will pick up a fifth season of “Tree” automatically as part of its deal with Warner Bros. Domestic Cable; the show has accumulated 88 hours over four years.

SoapNet has shot up by 10 million households in the last year, swelling its total to 56.8 million and making it the third fastest-growing network in basic cable behind Oxygen and TV One.

Blackwell said this revved-up growth “has allowed us to buy more contemporary shows” such as “OC” and “Tree.”

Down the road, when hit shows like “Ugly Betty” flow into the cable marketplace, Blackwell said SoapNet will have a competitive advantagebecause “other cable networks are scared of serialized shows.”

By contrast, SoapNet’s whole stock in trade is serialized reruns in primetime of each day’s network soaps.

Warner Bros. has the right to sell “OC” and “Tree” to TV stations in weekend syndication simultaneous with their SoapNet run, with theexception of the 4 to 8 p.m. time periods on Saturday and Sunday, when SoapNet may schedule further reruns of “OC” and “Tree.”

Engineering the deal for the distributor was Eric Frankel, president of Warner Bros. Domestic Cable Distribution.

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