Artisan renews Showtime deal

Artisan Entertainment has re-upped their contract with Showtime to continue distributing its films on the cable network through 2008.

As part of the deal, Showtime has the exclusive premium cable TV rights to all Artisan films, including planned 2002 efforts Dirty Dancing 2 and a prequel to The Blair Witch Project, tentatively entitled Blair Witch 3. Releases to roll out this year from Artisan, also later making their way to Showtime, include Novocaine starring Steve Martin.

The deal also give Showtime fairly flexible rights to include Artisan films in its plans to eventually sell the network on a "subscription video on demand basis", letting subscribers acces films appearing on Showtime whenever they want. Artisan blew out Hollywood with Blair Witch two years ago but has been struggling of late and is looking for a buyer.

The deal leaves Showtime's three largest output deals with sister division Paramount, another with MGM and then Artisan. MGM and Artisan are far from steady hit factories. But Showtime executive vice president of acquisitions Matthew Duda said the deal doesn't leave Showtime's slate of theatrical releases thin. HBO and Starz each have deals with two major studios plus an assortment of smaller outfits. "We think that incremental dollar is best spent on other things, like originals or boxing," Duda said. - John Higgins