Package includes 'Dark Knight,' 'Speed Racer'

Cable’s voracious appetite for fresh theatrical titles has spurred a mega-sale of high-profile titles, most of which haven’t been released yet, by Warner Bros. Domestic Cable TV to Turner Broadcasting’s TNT and TBS. Pics in the package include “10,000 B.C.,” the “Batman” entry “The Dark Knight,” “Speed Racer,” “Get Smart,” the Jim Carrey starrer “Yes Man” and the Leonardo DiCaprio-Russell Crowe vehicle “Body of Lies.”

USA and FX in recent weeks have bagged some major prebuy titles, causing industry observers to take note of the sudden heat and competish among top cablers in the pic rights marketplace.

The Warners/Turner deal goes well beyond just prebuys; six other pictures already released in theaters round out the deal, one of the biggest in the last few years: “I Am Legend,” “Fred Claus,” “The Bucket List,” “Fool’s Gold,” “TMNT (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles)” and the animated “Ant Bully.”

The parties declined to discuss dollar figures and other details of the transaction, but with prebuys, the network usually agrees to pay about 11% of the final domestic box office figure, with a cap when a movie’s gross reaches upwards of $250 million in U.S. theaters. And Warners will also likely have a carve-out, permitting it to sell a few runs of some of the titles to another network within Turner’s 4½-year license term.

Warner Bros. is, in effect, selling an entire slate of movies to Turner in the network window. The studio pitched the “Dark Knight” package to USA and FX, the two other aggressive buyers of theatrical movies in cable, but Turner stepped up, at least in part because its rivals had engineered some recent major prebuys.

USA grabbed “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” from Paramount and “Sex & the City: The Movie” and “Semi-Pro” from New Line. FX locked up a batch of titles from Sony/Columbia, including two Judd Apatow movies, one of which, “Step Brothers,” stars Will Ferrell.

Turner execs were high-fiving over the Warner Bros. deal. “Movies are a key part of the programming lineup on TNT and TBS,” said Ken Schwab, senior VP of programming for the two networks. “We’re getting titles that are perfect fits for our brands.”

Schwab cited “I Am Legend” and the “Batman” sequel “Dark Knight” as tailor-made for TNT, and “Get Smart,” with Steve Carell, and Carrey’s “Yes Man” as appropriate titles for TBS.

TBS will be able to start running “Ant Bully” in June; TNT will get “TMNT” in October 2009. The rest of the movies will trickle in to the two networks throughout 2010 and 2011.

Before the titles get to TBS and TNT, HBO will get them in the pay-TV window as part of the network’s theatrical-output deal with Warner Bros.

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