Alliance, Atlantis get backers’ OK to merge

Toppers express admiration for one another

TORONTO — Two shareholder votes to combine former competitors Alliance Communications and Atlantis Communications, held at the same location a few hours apart Wednesday, passed without a hitch.

Atlantis founder, president and CEO Michael MacMillan saluted Alliance founder, president and CEO Robert Lantos for having “the courage and the vision to leave and pursue what he really wanted.” And Lantos saluted MacMillan as “a fierce competitor who has built his company from scratch. He may be second place, but I am older than he is.”

While the Atlantis meeting was crisp and to the point, the Alliance meeting was a more emotional affair — particularly for Lantos, who stepped down from the podium for the last time as head of the company he founded in the mid-1980s.

Toward the end of the Alliance meeting, which was also the company’s annual general membership meeting, Lantos formally handed the reins over to a beaming MacMillan, saying, “He may be a runner and I a swimmer, but we are not all that different. We are in it to win.”

Lantos is giving up his management position to “return to storytelling.” He will focus on film and TV production, and has an exclusivity deal to work with Alliance Atlantis for the next three years.

“It’s a very bizarre experience,” he told reporters afterward, “liberating and exhilarating on the one hand, and nostalgic and somewhat sad on the other. I leave this behind in order to move forward.”

Lantos also paid tribute to his old friend and colleague, Victor Loewy, who has worked with Lantos from the beginning of their careers and will be heading up film for the new company’s motion picture business.

The two of them are benefiting handsomely from the deal. Lantos will receive a severance of C$6.2 million ($4.1 million), and together he and Loewy hold more than $33 million worth of shares and options.

Both went over the advantages of the merger of Canada’s two largest film and TV entertainment companies — the savings from eliminating duplication and greater heft for international competition, riffs that both helmers have been playing since the merger was announced on July 20.

Although the transaction is technically a takeover of Atlantis by Alliance, with Atlantis shareholders receiving half a share of Alliance for each of their shares, Atlantis executives will dominate Alliance Atlantis Communications. There will be equal representation from both companies on the board of directors.

Together their production slate for 1998 is more than 300 hours of television. Pending Canadian regulatory approval, they will hold four specialty channels; a multimedia, animation and post-production company; plus a combined program library of more than 12,000 hours.

Alliance is also a major player in the Canadian feature film business as both a distributor and producer, and Lantos and MacMillan have said the merger will not diminish the company’s focus on feature films.

At the Alliance meeting, Lantos announced net earnings of $15.8 million, or $1.12 per share, up from $11.8 million, or $1 per share in 1997. Revenues were $254 million in fiscal 1998, up from $186 million last year.

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