Pact to cover as many as 95 titles

Showtime has signed an exclusive seven-year theatrical-movie-output deal with the Weinstein Co., defying Paramount Pictures, MGM and Lionsgate, which are canceling their Showtime outputs and jointly creating their own separate pay TV network, to kick off late in 2009.

The Weinstein deal, which could encompass up to 95 titles, starts with its 2009 release schedule, led by “Nine,” with Daniel Day-Lewis and Nicole Kidman, and Quentin Tarantino’s “Inglorious Bastards.”

“This deal reinforces a strategy that will give us a diverse slate of films to go with our original series,” said Matt Blank, chairman and CEO of Showtime Networks. All that Blank would say about the license fee is that it’s “a price that is consistent with today’s marketplace.”

Showtime earlier this year balked at what it termed excessive license fee demands for renewals on its long-standing output deals with Paramount, its former sibling studio, as well as MGM and Lionsgate. Those three have joined together to launch a pay TV rival to Showtime and HBO (Daily Variety, April 21).

The deal, which includes 15 slots for animated pics, is also a boon to the Weinsteins’ company and “provides our films with a critically important pay TV home for the next seven years,” said Harvey Weinstein.

While declining to confirm any dollar figures, Blank said his philosophy is that, while still part of the pay TV mix, exclusive theatricals don’t deserve the big bucks demanded by the studios for one big reason: Too many people have seen each movie by the time it reaches pay TV 10 to 12 months after it premieres in theaters.

For example, before they wend their way to pay TV, theatrical movies get full exposure on DVD, video on demand, pay per view, home computers and portable media players (including video iPods and cell phones) through downloading. The usage of movies on VOD and wireless devices is expected to rise dramatically in the next few years.

A spokesman for the new pay TV network encompassing movies from Paramount, MGM and Lionsgate had no comment on the Showtime-Weinstein deal. Since the three studios created their channel April 20, they have yet to announce any deals with cable operators, satellite distributors or telephone companies, despite a lineup of movies including “Iron Man” and the latest “Star Trek” sequel.

“This is huge for us, and a bedrock for the company going forward,” TWC’s Bob Weinstein said about the Showtime deal. TWC’s movies were controlled by MGM under a contract that expires at the end of the year, so they wound up on Showtime as part of the network’s output deal with MGM.

When TWC greenlights a movie from now on, it can put the Showtime license fee against the budget and feel confident that even a weak performing picture will bring some return to TWC, Weinstein said. “We have more control over our own destiny.”

Blank is also bullish about the Weinstein deal but said, “No subscriber buys Showtime every month for the theatrical motion pictures.”

Showtime’s stock in trade these days is series, including “Dexter,” “Californication,” “The Tudors” and “Weeds.” It also has added “Inside the NFL,” which had aired on HBO, and coming soon is “The United States of Tara,” exec produced by Steven Spielberg, written by Diablo Cody and starring Toni Colette.

Other TWC/Dimension movies coming up for scheduling on Showtime include a modern remake of “Seven Samurai”; “All Good Things,” with Ryan Gosling and Kirsten Dunst; “The 6 Billion Dollar Man”; “Scream 4″; and “Piranha 3D.”

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