Atlantis takes 50% stake in Calibre toon-f/x house

TORONTO — Atlantis Communications, one of Canada’s leading producers of TV series, has taken a big stake in a small special effects and animation company.

Chairman Michael MacMillan told the annual meeting Wednesday that Toronto-based Atlantis has acquired 50% of Calibre Digital Pictures, which produces special effects for Atlantis’ “The Adventures of Sinbad” and “Gene Roddenberry’s Earth: Final Conflict,” a new fall series syndicated by Tribune Entertainment in the U.S. and licensed to Baton Broadcasting in Canada.

“This acquisition represents a low-risk, high-potential entry point into the exciting animation business,” he said.

He told reporters later that the amount Atlantis paid was less than Calibre’s projected 1997 revenue of about C$4 million ($2.9 million). Atlantis has an option to acquire all of Calibre within two years, he said.

With the cash injection from Atlantis, Calibre, which has been a service provider for third parties, will begin to develop proprietary animation projects.

Neil Williamson, Calibre’s president, founder and creative director, told Daily Variety that the company already has two projects in development: a pre-school series completely computer animated; and “Dragons All Around,” a series for children ages 8 to 12.

MacMillan also told shareholders that Atlantis has high hopes for its newly licensed specialty channel, Home and Garden Television Canada, but has yet to nail down a cable carriage deal.

Ken Lowe, CEO of Home and Garden Television in the U.S., said his service has expanded to reach 32 million homes in 2-1/2 years, and the number of national advertisers has grown from 40 to 700. Lowe, who attended the meeting, said HGTV will turn profitable next year. E.W. Scripps Co., which owns HGTV in the U.S., will have a one-third stake in the Canadian channel. Atlantis is hoping for similar success.

Atlantis Releasing, the company’s distribution arm, recently became the Canadian distributor for several CBS Inc. products, including “60 Minutes.”

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