While most of us fled the office to enjoy early spring, Sumner Redstone spent another relaxing weekend watching his corporate children at Viacom gouge each others' eyes out. And this time around he got his money's worth, with Paramount finally breaking free from CBS/Showtime to start its own pay-cable and VOD service with MGM and Lionsgate. It's an untidy, somewhat shocking scenario that we (and seemingly the rest of the Web) can't yet make sense of, but join us after the jump to parse the winners and losers at a glance.
In the end, the studios just wanted more for their films' pay-cable rights than Showtime was willing to pay. This much was somewhat old news; Viacom and Paramount haven't quite seen eye-to-eye with CBS boss Les Moonves and Showtime chief Matt Blank for some time. The vertical integration implied by their output deals — Showtime had rights to Paramount releases through the end of 2007 — was less a function of convenience than an increasingly forced pairing, especially as Showtime's original programming (Weeds, Dexter, The Tudors) took off over the last few years. Showtime's output deals with MGM and Lionsgate — booked through the end of this year — were just as fragile in the Redstone and Viacom CEO Phillipe Dauman's volatile corporate culture.
Moonves wanted to drastically cut the price for Paramount pics, arguing that "the pay channel world isn't what it used to be" and the value of movies on pay TV has decreased while the importance of hot new scripted original series have increased. I'm told that, as the bargaining dragged on, the Paramount/Viacom camp, once optimistic that it would all work out, lost patience with Moonves' "hard line" and resented being lowballed. Now it looks like Les over-negotiated because Paramount, MGM and Lionsgate have found refuge thanks to Viacom. This new premium TV channel by Viacom, Paramount, MGM and Lionsgate is that old Hollywood maxim at work: Don't get mad. Get even.
Well, yeah. One observer told Finke that Moonves is "royally screwed" — for starters, there are no studios left on the market for output deals. A defiant Blank, however, is standing tall this morning in Variety:
"We're not willing to sell our network down the river for product that's not as valuable as it used to be," he said. "We wish them well. ...
"We've been having unbelievable success with our original programming," Blank said. "Can you name one movie Showtime has aired in the last three years? But people sure do know The Tudors and Californication and Dexter and Weeds."
Take that spin for what you will, but we're of a mind with David Poland: Apart from drunken Sunday-afternoon pissing contests, what's really in this for the 'Mount? Showtime keeps the studio's library for a while still, leaving MGM and Lionsgate's libraries (along with upcoming, inconsistent Paramount product ranging from Iron Man to The Love Guru) the primary source of programming. (DreamWorks films are aligned separately with HBO.) As such, reports The New York Times, original programming may be in the cards when the new channel launches in late 2009. But why pay hundreds of millions to enter that fray when HBO and Showtime have spent years establishing the institutional upper hand?
Sometimes there is no explanation for this kind of stuff besides entertaining Emperor Redstone — and us. We could watch Brad Grey cannibalize Les Moonves all day. Nevertheless, somebody out there knows something the rest of us don't; maybe an original program is jumping ship? Moonves lost a poker bet with MGM chief Harry Sloan over the weekend? Your guesses are as good as ours.
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