Long-term deal comes amid heightened digital, pay TV competitish for theatrical rights

HBO has solidified a key tranche of its programming pipeline, sealing a long-term renewal of its output pact with Universal Pictures.

Deal, which covers Universal and Focus Features titles released through 2021, comes amid heightened competition for theatrical rights among pay TV and digital players. The timing of the Universal extension synchs up with the extension HBO reached last year with 20th Century Fox. HBO’s previous pact covered U titles released through 2016.

HBO has been eager to lock up deals with its primary studio partners (which also include its Time Warner sibling Warner Bros. and Summit Entertainment) to secure its pic sources at a time when Netflix is spending big for rights and looking to shakeup the status quo in pay TV windowing for new theatrical releases. Disney last month made headlines by cutting a rich pay TV output deal with Netflix for releases starting in 2016.

Deal is also notable because it comes just as Liberty Media is preparing to spin off HBO rival Starz Entertainment into a separate entity, making it an acquisition target. Universal parent Comcast Corp. has been mentioned as a possible suitor for the Starz-Encore clutch of pay cablers, but U’s long-term pact with HBO is a strong signal that Comcast is not in the hunt for Starz.

Even with HBO’s broad base of original programming, movies remain a vital part of HBO’s programming menu. As much as 84% of the cabler’s live viewing (meaning not via VOD or DVR) comes from theatricals. Sources indicated that with Universal now in hand, HBO execs feel they have plenty of pics for the next decade and are no longer in the market for output deals.

Frances Manfredi, prexy of NBCUniversal Cable & New Media Distribution, and Doris Casap, HBO’s senior veep of film programming, led the negotiations on the new deal. HBO has been in biz with Universal since 2003.

“We are excited to extend our relationship with Universal Pictures and have now solidified HBO’s position for first-run theatricals into the next decade,” said Bruce Grivetti, prexy of HBO film programming.

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