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USA Network trumps net window for six features

NEW YORK – The USA Network has blown out the broadcast-network window for six theatrical movies, buying them for exclusive three-year license terms following their run on pay TV. The titles include Universal’s “Sudden Death,” with Jean-Claude Van Damme, and ITC/Gramercy’s “The Usual Suspects.”

“We could make a lot of noise with these movies because USA will be getting them very quickly, from two-and-a-half to three years after their run in the theaters,” said Kay Koplovitz, chairman and CEO of the USA Networks.

The disclosure of this strategy by USA comes just seven days after Ted Turner announced that his two highest-rated cable networks, TNT and TBS, had aced out the broadcast networks for “Space Jam,” “Michael,” “Mars Attacks!” and nine other theatricals, all of them produced by three movie companies owned by Time Warner: Warner Bros. Pictures, Castle Rock and Turner Pictures.

Koplovitz said, “Turner is only following our lead – we’re constantly pounding on the doors of the studios to give us a chance to buy out the network windows of theatrical movies.”

Universal, a co-owner of USA with Paramount, will funnel another one of its movies – “Splitting Heirs,” with Rick Moranis and Barbara Hershey – to USA after its pay TV exposure. The other USA titles are New Line’s 1995 comedy “Friday,” starring Ice Cube, and two from ITC: “Canadian Bacon,” with John Candy and Alan Alda, and “Posse,” directed by and starring Mario Van Peebles. Industry sources say USA will pay about $4 million a title for the six pictures. “Posse” will get its first run on USA next month.

Although she declined to comment on dollar figures, Koplovitz said, “We’re paying prices that are competitive with what a broadcast network would pay.” Any hints of low-balling would seize the attention of attorneys for the profit participants in each of the movies.

“USA stepped up in a significant way,” said Matt Cooperstein, executive VP of domestic sales for ITC Entertainment.

Cooperstein added that all of the movie companies are thrilled that “with USA and Turner we have two new competitors for theatricals in the first network window,” an increase in demand that’s almost certain to ratchet up prices for movies.