The long-running litigation over WINNIE THE POOH royalties took a startling turn as accountants hired by the court to audit Disney's records were officially fired on October 25, 2002. Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Ernest M. Hiroshige had determined that the accountants were biased in favor of Disney and their auditing methods unreliable. He has ordered that a new independent accounting firm be hired.
Cartoon Network has added Hungarian and Romanian to its language services making it available in no less than eleven languages in Europe. Starting out as a pan-European channel in 1993, Cartoon Network now has seven dedicated regional channels in Europe, the Middle East and Africa where it can be enjoyed in English, Danish, Dutch, French, Hungarian, Italian, Norwegian, Polish, Romanian, Spanish and Swedish.
IMAX Corporation has announced that it will be bringing large format theaters to South America. Four IMAX theatres will open, to be located in Chile and Ecuador. "IMAX's entry into South America with these four new theatres is an exciting moment for our company and is really only the beginning for us in a market that we believe can support many more IMAX theatres in many countries," said Richard L. Gelfond and Bradley J. Wechsler, co-CEOs and co-chairmen, IMAX Corporation.
ELECTRONIC MEDIA ONLINE is reporting that U.S. broadcast network UPN will be dropping Disney's two-hour animated block beginning in 2003, opting instead to give the time slots back to stations. The kids' block airs weekdays on various UPN affiliates and features such series as DIGIMON and DISNEY'S RECESS. Disney has been programming the block since 1999. The two-hour slot will likely be handed back to affiliates for syndicated or local programming, effectively removing at least one network from the broadcast 'toon wars.
London-based computer animation studio Slave Studios Ltd. has opened Bravo Studios, a sister company based in Bucharest. Bravo Studios is headed by Cinesite veteran Bill Scanlon, and opened in summer 2002 with 30 animators. The studio expects to increase its staff to over 50 animators by 2003. Slave and Bravo are currently at work on numerous projects for television and film. Among other projects, the studio recently completed SPHERIKS, a 26 x half-hour TV series in partnership with Passion Pictures for FIFA, featuring the official mascots for the WORLD CUP 2002.
Childrens entertainment outfit HIT Entertainment reported record financial results for its fiscal year, which ended July 31, 2002.
REUTERS reports that television mogul Haim Saban is in talks to buy the Jim Henson Co. from Germany's EM.TV. According to REUTERS sources, the sale price is hovering around $100 million, a deep discount from the $680 million (cash and stock) that EM.TV paid for the Muppet factory in February 2000. Since EM.TV put the Henson Co. on the block on 2001, both Viacom and Disney have been rumored suitors for the company but no deals were ever solidified, although Disney has been hovering around the property for years.
RTV Family Entertainment AG has announced that the company has been successfully restructured, thanks in part to downsizing of staff and a capital increase in cash. In May 2002, RTVs steadily declining economic situation put the company into dire straits until a bridge credit line was issued to them in mid-June 2002. The funds were backed by a letter of credit from RTV's majority shareholder Ravensburger AG. Ravensburger has also taken over the 4.9 million Euros debt that remained, which will now allow RTV to refocus on its core business.
On October 6, 2002, MIPCOM Junior wrapped up its 10th year with the market reaching its all-time high in number of buyers. According to organizers, 433 buyers of childrens programs from 53 countries attended the two-day event, with animation remaining the favorite category and scoring the highest number of screenings. The total number of buyers represented a 19.3% increase compared to last year.
DECODE Entertainment and Sunwoo USA, a wholly owned subsidiary of Sunwoo Entertainment, have finalized a co-production deal to produce the series B-BOT VS. THE ALIEN POSSE. The deal is being called the first Canadian/Korean co-production based on a property developed by a Korean company. Sunwoo USA developed the show for television from a concept originally created by Sunwoo Entertainment's commercial division for an advertising campaign. The concept was introduced at MIP 2002 and caught the attention of DECODE.
Broadcast design industry veteran Saam Gabbay has launched Humunculus, a new broadcast design and animation company in Venice, California. Humunculus provides audiovisual content for television networks, ad agencies, entertainment companies and major corporations. A 1992 graduate of UC Santa Barbara, Saam taught courses at UCSB on Adobe Photoshop and Premiere and helped to create the university's digital media lab.
Continuing a 50 year-old Hollywood Animation tradition, Los Angeles, New York and London-based Unbound has moved its Unbound Animation Studio into the buildings occupied by Playhouse Pictures since 1952. Playhouse, which is relocating to larger facilities in West Los Angeles, is recognized by the City Council of Los Angeles as the oldest continuously operating animation studio in Hollywood, and second oldest (after Disney) in the world.
Cinar, which is beginning to rebound from its troubled past, has announced it will team with France's Alphanim to co-produce two new 26-episode animated series, CREEP SCHOOL and POTATOES & DRAGONS. CREEP SCHOOL is a spooky comedy that takes place at an isolated boarding school. The series concept was created by Torbjorn Janson and Sweden's Happy Life, and will be co-produced by CINAR, Alphanim & Happy Life. The series is set to broadcast on TeleTOON (Canada), France 3 and ZDF in Germany.
Perky Pickle Studios, a new full-service animation studio has launched in Burbank, California. Helmed by award-winning animation filmmaker Jordan Reichek, Perky Pickle will offer a variety of animation techniques including 2D traditional, 3D and Flash. Said Reichek, "Top talent with strong leadership and financial responsibility are the cornerstones of the Perky Pickle Studio mantra. With this idea, we hope to provide a creative haven for our clients and employees." The studio has already partnered with artist Robt. Williams to develop his bizarre artwork into animated properties.
In an ongoing effort to reduce costs, Jim Morris, President of Lucas Digital Ltd., has announced a restructuring of Industrial Light & Magic (ILM). Key changes have been made to the leadership team in a move to streamline management. To this end, Chrissie England, a twenty-four year veteran of ILM, has been named senior vice president of production. England was most recently vice president of feature production, a post she held for the last two years. Reporting directly to Morris, England will oversee all aspects of ILM's feature effects work.
UK-based entertainment and sports marketing company CSS Stellar has acquired a majority shareholding in Target Distribution from founder shareholder Tiger Aspect Productions (MR. BEAN). In June 2002, Target had agreed to a merger with the Just Group, with Just Group proposing a 54% stake in the company to be purchased with funds raised by shareholders. This deal fell through in late summer, although Target continued to pursue a financial and strategic partner.
Intertainer, an online broadband entertainment-on-demand site has filed an anti-trust suit against three major entertainment companies, AOL Time Warner, Vivendi Universal and Sony. Intertainer has accused the companies of conspiracy to fix prices in the digital distribution of entertainment. Intertainer's suit alleges that the three defendants have attempted to control the marketplace for entertainment content on demand, thereby hindering and delaying the emergence of the broadband content industry and Intertainer's video on demand services.
Capitalizing on the name-recognition of the Sony brand, the company announced that it will be renaming its domestic and international television divisions. Columbia TriStar Domestic Television (CTDT) and Columbia TriStar International Television (CTIT) will now operate under the names Sony Pictures Television (SPT) and Sony Pictures Television International (SPTI), respectively.
Elephant Productions, the UK-based media company behind such series as GRIZZLY TALES FOR GRUESOME KIDS and JOHNNY CASANOVA THE UNSTOPPABLE SEX MACHINE, is to join forces with animation company Fictitious Egg to launch a new studio, Elephant Egg. The studio plans to offer a full range of animation services including traditional 2D, Flash, CGI and Celaction, as well as development and co-production services. Sarah Muller, managing director of Elephant Productions, will head up Elephant Egg, with Andy Wyatt, managing director of Fictitious Egg, as head of animation.
Animation and family entertainment reps The Gotham Group have reemerged from the break up of Artists Management Group, where they functioned as AMG's animation agency, and have forged a strategic relationship with The William Morris Agency (WMA). The announcement was made jointly by Jim Wiatt, president and co-CEO of the William Morris Agency and Ellen Goldsmith-Vein, CEO/founder of The Gotham Group. WMA will also represent Goldsmith-Vein and Gotham in their role as producers and expect to announce a first look deal at a major studio shortly. Gotham also plans to branch out to live-action.
Production agency CeMEDIA (Central European Media Workshop) has added Hungary's FirkaFilm to its production network and named it "First Base Studio" for the CeMEDIA production pipeline. Firka will control the overall production process and subcontract to other CeMEDIA member studios. Under contract with Varga Studios, Firka has provided animation services for an ANGELINA BALLERINA special and most recently completed the animation for 5 episodes of the series MR. BEAN. CeMedia will be at MIPCOM to distribute nearly 50 hours of animation provided by their European member studios.
Barrie Usher, president and CEO of Canadian children's entertainment company Cinar, has submitted his resignation effective September 15, 2002. George Rossi, senior vice president and CFO, will replace him in the interim until a new president and CEO is appointed. Cinar is emerging from a series of financial scandals that began in 1999, stemming from illegally obtained Canadian tax credits, non-approved investments in offshore accounts and the misappropriation of funds by senior executives.
Executive producer Steve Schofield, along with creative directors Chris Jones and Loni Peristere, all formerly of Radium, have formed visual effects company Zoic Studios. The new company, based in Los Angeles, California, will provide visual effects and CG animation for commercials, music videos, feature film and episodic television. The team is currently providing effects for the new Fox show FIREFLY, as well as the popular series BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER and ANGEL.
New York-based 3D design and animation company Phactory Productions, Inc., has merged with broadcast design studio Ultraviolet to create UV Phactory. The newly formed creative solutions studio offers 2D and 3D design and animation, live-action production and strategic design solutions for advertising agencies and the broadcast and cable communities. The company has already begun work on a host of jobs including projects for Miramax, HBO, TBS and The Sci-Fi Channel. UV Phactory will operate under the management team of Scott Sindorf, Damijan Saccio and Jeff Linnell.
Interactive entertainment producer NewKidCo International Inc., which develops games based on popular licensed characters such as WINNIE THE POOH and THE MUPPETS, announced its 2nd quarter 2002 results. The company had a net loss of $1.8 million for the quarter versus a net loss of $8.5 million for the same period last year. Income for the six months was a loss of $3.6 million versus a loss of $8.2 million last year, with revenue for the three and six months at $1.2 million and $3.1 million respectively versus $1.7 million and $5.3 million for the same period one year ago.