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FX Circling TV Rights to ‘Avatar’

The network would shell out more than $25 million for the James Cameron blockbuster.

"Avatar" has amazing FX — and it soon could be airing on FX. The cable network, that is.

According to people familiar with the situation, the News Corp. – owned cable network is in discussions to acquire the initial broadcast rights to James Cameron’s mega-blockbuster. The network had signaled its strong interest in the project even before the movie opened and started its domination of the box office.

On one level, FX’s likely deal is a complete non-surprise. Because News Corp.’s film unit is distributing the movie, it’s hard to imagine FX not having a leg up in negotiations vs. other networks.

That doesn’t mean it was a foregone conclusion FX would land "Avatar."

"It just means they have the right to match whatever price someone else is crazy enough to bid," a person with inside knowledge of the film licensing game told TheWrap.

As of Wednesday, no deal was known to be done. An FX spokesman had previously declined to confirm or deny a deal.)

And in the case of Cameron’s epic, there are indications that more than one network was discussing bidding on the film. Indeed, while broadcast networks have largely gotten out of the film acquisition business, sources tell TheWrap that at least one broadcaster also mulled a play for "Avatar."

Whether those discussions led to a formal bid was unclear Wednesday night.

Just how much FX would end up paying for "Avatar" is uncertain, but it won’t come cheap. Typically, networks pay about 12 percent of a film’s domestic gross — with their price tag capped at a certain level.

That’s key in the case of "Avatar," since the film has already made more than $350 million in the U.S, with hundreds of millions more likely to come.

At the very least, it’s hard to see FX paying anything much less than $30 million for the movie.

Also uncertain: Whether one of the broadcast networks will still make a play for a secondary window on "Avatar," airing the movie after FX has done so. FX sister Fox would seem to be a logical choice, but there’s no indication the network wants to spend the money on the film. As of two days ago, network sources indicated there was no sign Fox was pursuing the broadcast rights.

One other possible wrinkle: Whether FX, or any other network, might consider airing "Avatar" in 3-D. To do so, a network would have to spend a not insignificant sum to conver the movie to TV-style 3-D. Cameron would also likely want to oversee or approve the process.

It’s not hard to see a major TV set manufacturer stepping up to sponsor a 3-D showing as a way of generating interest in the technology. "Avatar" likely won’t debut on FX until late 2012 or possibly 2013, at which point 3-D might have made inroads into U.S. homes — or fizzled out.

FX has been loading up on blockbusters this year. It recently cut a deal for the "Twilight" films and also has dibs on hits such as "2012," the "Star Trek" reboot, Sandra Bullock’s "The Proposal" and the "Transformers" sequel.

An FX spokesman did not immediately return an email seeking comment very late Wednesday evening.