Alliance Atlantis Communications of Toronto, Canada, has decided to jump into factual programming with both feet, says Ted Riley, AAC president of television distribution. He confirms the company’s decision to launch a documentary and fact-based division called AAC Fact. The official debut is set for MIPCOM in October, though the pieces have been falling into place over the past several months.
In July, AAC announced its takeover of Edmonton-based producer/distributor Great North Communications, one of Canada’s main non-fiction program providers. AAC previously held a 39% stake in Great North, and purchased the remaining shares for approximately cdn$6 million (US$ 4 million). Says Riley, ‘Completing our acquisition of 100% of Great North, it gave us a real focus for [factual] activity and a real focus for growth.’
According to Riley, AAC plans to invest ‘millions’ in its doc division and is committed to adding 100 to 125 hours per year. The initial push is for acquisitions, though he expects in-house production to ramp up before long.
Former Great North president Andy Thomson has been named executive VP, Alliance Atlantis Television Production, and heads up AAC Fact in Toronto. He says, ‘Clearly we want to set up a development department down the road so we can start developing some
proprietary product. We don’t want to just acquire everything . . . Setting up a production arm within AAC Fact to handle that product, that seems to be the logical way to go – but that’s a year away I think.’
Thomson notes that AAC Fact will be open to programming from all genres, though the focus will be on projects most appropriate for AAC channels. The company currently has ownership in eight Canadian cable channels, including The Life Network and History Television, and recently won approval from the government regulatory body to launch Food Network Canada (a domestic version of the U.S. cable channel).
AAC is awaiting approval on several other applications – both cable and digital – including one for The Independent Film and Documentary Channel.
Both Thomson and Riley say AAC will seek to add to the distribution catalog of 675 hours that came with Great North. Says Thomson, ‘We have a strategy to acquire additional catalogs and libraries, probably through investment. I’m not sure that we’d be in a situation to buy 100% of a factual production company, but we may look at picking up a percentage of it, in exchange for an output deal and access to a back catalog. We are in discussion with a few, but it’s too early to make that public.’
Great North’s established production arm will remain in Edmonton, headed by president Patricia Phillips.