In a big programming acquisition aimed at drawing upscale viewers, A&E obtained the right to air episodes from CBS's popular drama series CSI: Miami over the next eight years as part of a multi-million dollar distribution deal with series distributor King World.
The deal is a bit of a risk for A&E, considering the series, currently the highest-rated new dramatic series on broadcast television, only has one year under its belt.
But A&E executives believe CSI: Miami will provide a major ratings boost to the network, which has experienced a precipitous drop in ratings over the last 18 months.
In first quarter 2003, A&E averaged a 1.0 rating, down 9 percent from the same period in 2003.
A&E will have access to episodes from the first two seasons of CSI: Miami— assuming the freshman show completes a sophomore season — beginning in fall 2004 at a price of more than $100,000 an episode, according to sources close to the situation.
A&E general manager Abbe Raven said the network has not decided whether the show will air in primetime.
Sources said the network beat out several other competitors for the rights, including USA Network and Turner Network Television, as well as TNN, which holds cable rights to the original CSI: Crime Scene Investigation
In 2006, when CSI: Miami
goes into full syndication, A&E will pay more than $1 million per episode for the exclusive weekday cable window, sources said.
Syndicated weekend airings of the show will be up for grabs at that time.
is the third major content-acquisition deal for A&E in the last six months. The network last November acquired off-network rights to the NBC drama Crossing Jordan. Earlier this month the network completed a reported $20-million deal with The Walt Disney Co.'s Miramax studio for more than 40 titles, including Pulp Fiction and Goodwill Hunting.
Raven predicted CSI: Miami would generate "above average" primetime ratings for A&E, while more importantly delivering upscale adults ages 25 to 54.
"It's a powerful franchise and has done very well," Raven said. "It has fabulous demographics and is a complement to the upscale audience that we attract."