ABC, Disney Channel pocket ‘Princess’

Networks rely on sister movie companies for pix

NEW YORK — ABC and the Disney Channel have claimed the exclusive, shared-network window of Walt Disney’s “The Princess Diaries” theatrical, which grossed a healthy $22.86 million in its opening weekend.

The deal is the latest example of the benefits of vertical integration, which has become even more prevalent in a soft broadcast/cable marketplace for theatrical movies.

Just in the last couple of months, Fox and FX have bought 20th Century Fox’s “Planet of the Apes” and “Dr. Dolittle 2”; AOL Time Warner’s TBS and TNT have picked up New Line’s “Rush Hour 2”; Fox/FX have put dibs on Revolution’s “America’s Sweethearts”; and ABC has locked up Dimension’s “Scary Movie 2.”

The demand for theatricals by the broadcast and cable networks has fallen off because most of the movies have not delivered the mass TV audiences they once did. Also, networks are tightening their programming budgets as advertising revenues shrink, a casualty of the softest upfront marketplace in a decade.

Sisters stick together

These negative trends mean the networks are relying mostly on their sister movie companies for theatrical product, buying fewer pictures from outside suppliers.

ABC and Disney Channel will share the license fee for “Princess Diaries,” which will end up at about 15% of the eventual domestic box office gross. ABC will pay the higher percentage because it gets the first exclusive run, for the Sunday-night “Wonderful World of Disney” showcase.

“Diaries” becomes available to ABC in May 2004, following its pay TV run on Starz, which has an output deal with Disney for most of its theatrical movies.