A&E spending spree

Cabler nabs first windows on MGM, Fox pix

NEW YORK — Continuing its theatrical-movie-buying binge, A&E has picked up the first network window to MGM’s “Windtalkers” and 20th Century Fox’s “Down With Love.”

As part of the MGM deal, the cabler has also purchased five library titles: “The Thomas Crown Affair,” “The Great Escape” and “Ronin,” which will go to A&E; and “A Bridge Too Far” and “Wild Bill,” which will go to A&E sister net the History Channel.

A&E will pony up a license fee of about $2 million for the MGM titles. Spike TV will share in the “Windtalkers” deal, although A&E gets the first plays, beginning in January.

The “Down With Love” transaction includes seven other Fox titles, all of them for A&E: “Point Break,” “The Princess Bride,” “My Cousin Vinny,” “Unlawful Entry,” “The Good Son,” “Brubaker” and “Class Action.” Fox will pocket a total of $2.5 million for the eight pictures. The library titles are available this year, while “Down With Love” will premiere in January 2006 for an exclusive one-year license term.

While declining to discuss movie license fees, Bob DeBitetto, senior VP of programming for A&E, said the MGM and Fox contracts are well in line with the network’s strategy of “looking for a handful of movies we can premiere in the basic-cable or broadcast window while stocking up on older blockbuster titles like ‘Forrest Gump.’ ”

In the last year or so, A&E has locked up the basic cable debut of pics including “The Shipping News,” “In the Bedroom,” “Monster’s Ball,” “Nicholas Nickleby,” “The Hours,” “Far From Heaven,” “Gosford Park” and “Four Feathers.”

A&E carved out Friday as the primetime movie night. “The movies have helped us to contemporize the schedule, so that in the past six months, the median age of A&E has dropped by six years,” DeBitetto said

It’s not just movies, though. DeBitetto cites the success of a pair of Monday-night firstrun reality series, “Family Plots” and “Airline,” as key building blocks in modifying A&E’s reputation.

“If we’re six years younger over-all,” he said, “we’re 10 years younger on Monday night.”