FX, NBC Uni hook up for movie date


NBC Universal has engineered a major film-package sale to News Corp.'s FX Network that comprises most of the titles on Universal's 2008 slate.

The deal, for the network television window rights, includes about 15 titles from Universal and specialty labels Rogue Pictures and Focus Features, most of which have yet to be released. Among the titles are the Judd Apatow-produced "Forgetting Sarah Marshall," George Clooney's "Leatherheads" and the Angelina Jolie starrer "Wanted."

The agreement, estimated to be worth more than $100 million, marks NBC Uni's first slate deal with a basic cable network; it has an output deal with pay channel HBO.

"This deal is a tremendous vote of confidence in Universal Pictures," vice chairman Rick Finkelstein said. "It has been a long time since we have seen a presale of this magnitude."

Also part of the agreement are upcoming films "The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor," with Brendan Fraser and Maria Bello; "Hellboy II: The Golden Army," starring Ron Perlman and Selma Blair; "Death Race," featuring Jason Statham and Joan Allen; Dennis Quaid starrer "The Express"; Clint Eastwood's "Changeling"; "Baby Mama," starring Tina Fey and Amy Poehler; and "The Strangers," with Liv Tyler and Scott Speedman. The pact also includes the recently released films "Definitely, Maybe" and "Doomsday."

The rights to each title will kick in about 28-30 months after its theatrical release, following the pay window, with the first coming available in summer 2010. The length of FX's window varies on each title, and NBC Uni also has retained the right to carve out broadcast windows on certain titles.

Frances Manfredi, executive vp and GM at NBC Universal Domestic Television Distribution, said it was a good move for the company to sell nearly the whole 2008 slate in one package.

"It's a great deal," she said. "FX approached us and was very aggressive. We assessed the titles and the offer, and it made a lot of sense."

All parties declined comment on the financial terms of the deal, but sources said that FX will pay 11%-12% of the domestic boxoffice on each title.

FX executive vp Chuck Saftler said the films in the NBC Uni package will be a great fit with the network's schedule and its movie library, citing the diversity and quality of the titles the network is getting in the deal.

"For us, it's about picking up a very diverse slate that will give us movies that appeal to every quadrant of the 18-49 demographic," he said. "We are choosing movies diverse enough that we have the ability to support all of our original programs."

FX generally airs theatrical movies as lead-ins to its original series. Theatricals including "Mr. and Mrs. Smith" and "Batman Begins" recently helped boost FX's January and February 18-49 ratings by 28%-30% over a year ago.

The purchase follows other recent film-package prebuys by FX, including one with Marvel Studios that includes "Iron Man" and "The Incredible Hulk" and another with Sony that includes two other Apatow films, "Step Brothers" and "Pineapple Express." Other basic cable networks, including TNT, TBS and USA Network, also have recently scored big prebuys.

But Manfredi said it's too early to tell whether all the recent prebuys, particularly with film packages, are a sign of a shifting business model or just reflect the quality of this year's product.

"There are really some huge blockbuster titles with huge actors and directors (coming down the pike), and for the process of a prebuy, I think that means there's probably a bit less risk associated with it," she said.