Lifetime nabs ‘Mother’ cable rights

Cable network outbids TBS, ABC Family, FX

Lifetime came out on top in a lively bidding war with TBS, ABC Family, FX and Comedy Central to nail down exclusive cable TV rights to the reruns of Twentieth TV’s “How I Met Your Mother.”

The parties declined to discuss financial terms, but Lifetime forked over a strapping $82.5 million (or about $750,000 an episode multiplied by 110 half hours).

That’s the second biggest license fee ever ponied up by a cable network for a sitcom in the first cycle, beaten only by the $800,000 an episode shelled out by FX for Warner Bros. Domestic’s “Two and a Half Men.”

Twentieth is also poised to add another $800,000 an episode or more in license fees from the simultaneous sale of “Mother” to TV stations in off-network syndication, which will share the runs with Lifetime.

Having lost some total viewers (off 5%) and some people 18 to 49 (off 4%) in the primetime Nielsens for July and August, Lifetime is looking to refresh its rerun lineup, which includes “Reba,” “Will & Grace” and “Frasier.”

“Mother” has become one of the bellwethers of CBS’ Monday-night sitcom lineup, averaging 9 million viewers and adding 450,000 people 18 to 49 during the 2007-08 season.

The $82.5 million license fee is one of the two revenue streams flowing into Twentieth’s coffers. The second is the three 30-second spots that the distrib will hold back in each half-hour run on Lifetime, which could be worth another $200,000 or more for each episode over the four years, depending on the health of the advertising marketplace.

The 12 weekly runs of “Mother” won’t start until the fall of 2010, but Lifetime will be able to repurpose two plays a week of the series for about 20 months, starting early next year.

Lifetime’s four-year license term begins in September 2010 with 110 episodes. As CBS keeps renewing “Mother” beyond the show’s first five seasons, Twentieth will add a year to Lifetime’s contract, capping the deal at eight seasons. Any renewals past season eight will have to be renegotiated by Twentieth and Lifetime.

Putting together the deal were JoAnn Alfano, executive VP for entertainment, for Lifetime Networks, and Bob Cook, president and chief operating officer of Twentieth TV.

Lifetime scored exclusive cable rights to reruns of ‘How I Met Your Mother.’