Starz wheels, deals for films

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Starz Entertainment has locked up its movie vault in a big way.

The John Malone-backed pay cabler has renewed its exclusive three-year output deals with movie suppliers Sony and Disney -- and to the tune of some $800 million.

At the same time, Starz has inked library deals with Warner Bros., MGM and Universal that will give Starz the rights to 1,200 back titles and classic TV series.

Financial terms of the deals were not disclosed, but the $800 million figure is realistic if a reasonable number of the two studios' titles performed well at the boxoffice. Factoring in the library deals from the other studios could put the total value of Starz payout at upwards of $1 billion.

While the Sony and Disney deals took several months to negotiate, all five pacts came together over the last few weeks.

"For us, these deals are very significant because they provide us with the main acquisitions that we have to line up new subscribers," Starz executive vp programming Stephan Shelanski said. "To lock them in for an extended period of time is very key to our future success."

The Disney deal will provide films to Starz released theatrically through 2012. Titles include "National Treasure: Book of Secrets" and "Enchanted" and Miramax's "No Country for Old Men."

The Sony deal encompasses films released through 2013, including such titles as "Hancock," starring Will Smith; the Tom Hanks starrer "Angels & Demons," the prequel to "The Da Vinci Code"; and "You Don't Mess With the Zohan," with Adam Sandler.

Starz will have a 15- to 18-month first window on each title, followed by a second window after the basic cable and broadcast premieres.

Among the library titles Starz is getting are various "Lethal Weapon," "Ace Ventura," "Batman" and "Superman" films from Warner Bros.; 17 James Bond films and several "Pink Panther" titles from MGM; and "Mullholland Drive," John Waters' "Hairspray" and two "Nightmare on Elm Street" titles from Universal. Starz has a 15- to 18-month window for each title, with the first coming available in 2009 and continuing through 2015.

The deals also allow Starz to offer the content on multiple distribution platforms, including its 16 linear channels as well as HD, Starz on Demand, Starz Play and broadband video download service Vongo.

"It's very important to us that we don't do any deals that don't include all of our platforms," Shelanski said.

Shelanski noted that while Starz premiered two original series Wednesday night -- the second season of "Head Case" and the debut of "Hollywood Residential" -- films will continue to be the company's primary focus, noting that Starz's original programming is intended to complement its roster of acquired movies.

Outside of Sony and Disney, the other major film studios' output deals for current and upcoming movies are split between the other payboxes, HBO and Showtime. HBO has first-run deals for films released by Warner Bros.and New Line, Fox, Universal, and DreamWorks, while Showtime's output deals are with sibling Paramount as well as with MGM and Lionsgate.

Starz also has the exclusive premium TV rights to films from its sister company Overture Films, which has just begun to release its own titles. Select first-run theatrical films from the Weinstein Co., IFC and Yari Film are also available exclusively on Starz services.
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