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Showtime, BET Team on Film Acquisition

In the first synergistic move involving Showtime and Black Entertainment Television, the two Viacom Inc.-owned programmers joined forces last week to acquire rights to Lift, a dramatic independent film.

Showtime will debut Lift
on June 26, while BET will premiere the film on basic cable in late 2003, according to executives from both companies.

Financial terms were not disclosed, but both Showtime and BET will share presentation credit for the movie, which won accolades at the 2001 Sundance Film Festival. This deal is the first cooperative acquisition for Showtime and BET since Viacom's $3 billion purchase of BET in 2000.

The Lift
deal, however, is BET's second programming tie-in with a Viacom sibling. BET and CBS News last month began coproducing the cable network's weekday news shows, BET Nightly News
and BET Tonight with Ed Gordon, though BET retains full control of each show's content.

Both BET senior vice president for news, public affairs and programming acquisitions Nina Henderson Moore and Showtime executive vice president of programming enterprises and distribution Matt Riklin said the two companies are exploring other synergistic deals, although neither party would reveal specific details.

Under the most likely scenario, Showtime original films with African-American appeal, such as Bojangles, would eventually make their way to BET.

"Showtime has made a tremendous name for itself with African-American-targeted series, as well as original movies, and those type of programs would definitely have a home at BET," Moore said.

But a repurposing deal to air the popular Showtime original series Soul Food
is not in the works. Rifkin didn't rule out the possibility of offering selected, older episodes of the African-American-targeted show on BET to help expand the audience for the premium channel's series.

"It's not violating the propriety of our programming, but more [of] a broadening the audience," he said. "If those BET subscribers who don't have Soul Food
get hooked on the show the way our subscribers do, that will only help the show and Showtime."

Moore said Lift
would be edited appropriately for basic cable when it moves to the BET window. Prior to its basic-cable debut, the dramatic film will be distributed via home video and DVD through another Viacom Inc. owned company, Blockbuster Video, Riklin said.

Riklin said the deal is a win-win for both networks, as well as for African-American viewers. Although nearly one-quarter of Showtime's approximately 13 million viewers are African-American, the network doesn't reach nearly as many viewers within the group as BET, which counts more than 71 million subscribers.

"It just made sense that Lift
be the kickoff of what we hope will be other things that we can do together," Riklin said. "It's a home run, given the unduplicated potential audience."