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Animal Planet slates movie night

Channel nabs 'Stuart Little,' 'Migration,' others

The major studios have secured another cable-network beachhead with Animal Planet’s decision to start buying theatrical movies for the first time in its 10-year history.

Beginning May 19 with Columbia’s “Stuart Little,” Animal Planet will create a weekly Saturday movie night dealing with family movies centered on animals.

“The track record of theatrical movies on cable is a strong one,” said Marjorie Kaplan, president and general manager of Animal Planet. “By not buying them, we felt we were missing an opportunity.” The umbrella title for the Saturday strategy is “Animal Planet at the Movies.”

Animal Planet has bought two other Columbia Pictures titles, “Fly Away Home” and “Winged Migration,” and some Walt Disney movies, including “Air Bud” and two of its sequels, and “Homeward Bound” and its spinoff. Dan Russell, VP of programming for Animal Planet, said he’s negotiating with all the other major studios and expects to buy at least 26 pictures, usually in relatively short basic-cable windows of between one month and 12 months, depending on the title.

Kaplan said her decision to buy theatricals was made easy by “the network’s success with movie tie-ins” of such recent releases as 20th Century Fox’s “Eragon” and Paramount’s “Charlotte’s Web.” Animal Planet produces “tailored vignettes” linked to the movie, Russell said, and pockets extra advertising dollars from the movie companies.

Animal Planet will repeat each Saturday night movie the following Thursday, also in primetime.

One of the criteria for the Saturday movies becoming a permanent fixture on Animal Planet’s schedule will be if its average rating matches or exceeds the network’s primetime average.

If the movie hits those levels, Kaplan said the network might even start producing original movies of its own as a supplement to the theatricals. Animal Planet commissioned some made-fors a few years ago, but decided to re-allocate that money to the production of series.

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