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Disney in deal to offer movies via Comcast

Times Staff Writer

Walt Disney Co. agreed Tuesday to release movies for viewing on pay-per-view television as soon as 15 days after their release on DVD.

The arrangement covers an unspecified number of films by Disney Pictures, Touchstone and Miramax and comes as part of a long-term content pact between Disney and Comcast Corp., the nation’s largest cable operator.

Until now, Disney has generally followed the industry practice of releasing movies to pay-per-view between 30 and 45 days after DVD release. Now all Disney theatrical releases, with the possible exception of animated films, will automatically go to Comcast in a 15-to-45-day window. Other cable operators are likely to get the same earlier access in the future, said one person familiar with the agreement.

The Comcast agreement follows Disney’s recent pact to offer movies over Apple Computer Inc.'s iTunes at the same time that it releases DVDs, signaling that Disney may be anticipating that the DVD cash cow soon will be supplanted by other means of reaching viewers.

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“It’s yet another example of Disney remaining in the forefront of distribution over all platforms,” said analyst Laura Martin of Soleil/Media Metrics.

“This agreement continues to underscore collapsing windows” of availability, as each movie migrates more rapidly from one medium to the next, Martin said.

The new movies could take as long as 45 days after DVD release to reach Comcast viewers for $3.99 a showing, a Comcast spokeswoman said. Older movies will be available for $2.99.

The Disney contract, which was years in the making and had been anticipated for weeks, also calls for the Burbank-based company to offer some of the ABC network’s prime-time hits and news shows for free on-demand viewing in cities where ABC owns stations in Comcast territory. Los Angeles is not one of those cities.

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Some ESPN, Disney Channel and other Disney-controlled cable programming will also be offered for free viewing.

Comcast, which is based in Philadelphia, has a similar deal for NBC programs where the network owns stations. And a deal for CBS shows was expanded in September to reach all Comcast subscribers.

The prime-time ABC shows are “Desperate Housewives,” “Lost” and two new shows next fall. Disney already offers the first two programs for download via iTunes and online viewing at ABC.com.

Under the deal, Comcast will pay $1.23 billion for the 39.5% of E! Entertainment Television it doesn’t already own and about $1 billion a year for various Disney channels, as previously reported by The Times.

Disney shares rose 11 cents to $33.23.

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joseph.menn@latimes.com


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