USA bets big on Bond

Cable network pays $20 million for 'Casino Royale'

Has “Casino Royale” revitalized the James Bond franchise? Just ask the USA Network, which has agreed to pony up a hefty $20 million for cable rights after spirited bidding by FX, Spike and TNT.

Sony Pictures TV, which engineered the auction for “Casino Royale,” couldn’t have chosen a better time to come along with a blockbuster movie. Just since early September, Madison Avenue has paid a premium for each of seven different theatricals that chalked up more than 2 million adults 18-49 on ad-supported cable: “Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl” and “Elf” on USA; “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban” and “The Polar Express” on ABC Family; and “Cast Away,” “Walking Tall” and “Gone in 60 Seconds” on TNT.

USA takes title to “Casino Royale” in June 2009 for a five-year license term. Sony has carved out three separate two-month windows within the five years for sale to another cable and/or broadcast net. That should energize the profit participants of “Casino Royale”: Depending on the demand, those three windows could add another $5 million-plus to USA’s $20 million outlay.

The bidding on the Bond pic could be a harbinger of a healthy cable marketplace for big-grossing Christmas movies. The industry perception is that FX, Turner’s TNT/TBS and USA went after each other aggressively during the summer, bidding up prices and slapping smiles on the faces of the movie companies.

The biggest summer grosser, “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest,” fetched the biggest bucks, $25 million from USA. But FX broke the bank for “X-Men: The Last Stand,” “Superman Returns,” “Click” and “The Devil Wears Prada.” Turner shelled out big bucks for “The Da Vinci Code,” “Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby” and “Mission: Impossible III.” (FX also bought a share in the cable window of “Da Vinci Code.”) USA landed “The Break-Up.”

Before “Casino Royale” winds up on USA, it will get a 15-month exclusive run on HBO beginning next December. HBO has a theatrical output deal with Columbia Pictures, distributor of the Bond picture.