A&E swims Thames for Brit vid

'Benny Hill,' 'World at War,' 'Rumpole' to be released

In its largest acquisition to date, A&E Home Video has hauled in almost 1,000 hours of programming from British vault the Thames Library.

Included are more than 100 episodes of U.K. comedy “The Benny Hill Show” and 26 hours of docu series “The World at War.”

A&E now holds the homevideo rights to nearly all Thames Library content, currently owned by FremantleMedia. The four-disc set of “Benny Hill: Complete and Unadulterated,” which features episodes that aired from 1969-71, will hit the street Aug. 24. Further titles will roll out on a six-month schedule.

Also slated for third-quarter releases are boxed sets of “World at War” and such other Thames pickups as “Rumpole of the Bailey” and family series “The Wind in the Willows.”

After its homevideo success with “Monty Python’s Flying Circus” and “Mr. Bean,” A&E chiefs felt compelled to acquire more such product. Company declined comment, but sources peg homevideo revenue from its “Python” titles at $50 million.

“Thames is the gold standard of British TV programming,” said Kate Winn, VP of sales and marketing at A&E Home Video.

Previously, A&E’s biggest catch had been 350 hours of Carlton’s ITC library, which included U.K. programs “Space: 1999” and “The Saint.”

“Benny Hill” has played off and on in the U.S., “but this will be more than has ever been shown in the U.S. before,” Winn said.

With “Wind in the Willows” part of the deal as well, the Thames acquisition reps A&E’s inaugural step into family homevid fare. Company is best known for putting out adult-skewing titles to fit with its cable TV demographic.

Winn added that music performance DVDs should become another key category for A&E, with the company already considering packaging Sting and Paul McCartney concerts that have aired on the net. Sports history is another genre on its DVD horizon.

(Susanne Ault is a reporter for Daily Variety sister publication Video Business.)

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