A Five-Minute History of Michael MacMillan

From 16 mm to tablets Michael MacMillan and his friend Seaton McLean co-founded Atlantis Films in 1978 while studying film at Queen’s University. In the beginning, it was a straight-up film and TV production company and the pair distributed their programs by lugging 16mm film tins around the world. In those early days, before specialty […]

From 16 mm to tablets

Michael MacMillan and his friend Seaton McLean co-founded Atlantis Films in 1978 while studying film at Queen’s University. In the beginning, it was a straight-up film and TV production company and the pair distributed their programs by lugging 16mm film tins around the world.

In those early days, before specialty and satellite channels had mushroomed, people talked about the importance of producing content, says MacMillan. But that wasn’t where the money was. “Distribution was king,” he says.

Even though Atlantis hit the cinematic jackpot as a relatively young production house—it won an Academy Award for the short film Boys and Girls in 1984—it added distribution to the mix that year by setting up Atlantis Releasing.

That entity originally only distributed Atlantis’s own productions, but soon began distributing other companies’ programs. “Controlling the key access points [to content] was what made it possible to be successful in content,” says Macmillan.

The late ’80s and early ’90s saw Atlantis expand globally as it set up offices in Amsterdam, Sydney and L.A. In the mid-’90s, Atlantis got in the broadcasting game and launched Life Network. It was the first of several specialty channels it would operate; after Atlantis merged with Alliance in 1998, the mega-company cornered the specialty TV market in Canada. If you recall programming about building a shed or mixing a soufflé from back then, it probably aired on one of the 13 specialty networks Alliance Atlantis Communications operated, including HGTV Canada and Food Network Canada.

Then, in 2007, CanWest Global Communications acquired Alliance Atlantis and MacMillan, who was executive chairman at the time, agreed to serve as a consultant during the transition.

For someone who stepped away from an executive career while the party was still good, it’s surprising he chose to come back to the working world at all.
For a long while, he didn’t think he ever would. But he “couldn’t help but keep an eye on the media scene” during his quasi-retirement.

And one development struck him as huge opportunity: the invention of the tablet. He believes tablets will only increase how much people enjoy reading, watching and listening. “I think lots of other change will follow from it,” he says. In MacMillan’s mind, that’s a very good thing for consumers and content creators alike. “I find that creating cultural products, shall we say, is fun and interesting and undergoing huge change.”

But even with all that change, he recognizes the money is still overwhelming in established media. Blue Ant keeps its hands in it, says MacMillan, “to thrive and grow in the new areas.” While he says some online services “have hit the ball out of the park online,” it’s less clear which content plays will thrive. He points out, though, that some of the content that’s done the best online so far originated in print, citing The Wall Street Journal and Maclean’s. “It’s an interesting balancing act there.”

• Back to Watch Out For The Blue Ant

Update: The print version of this story erroneously identifies Seaton McLean as Michael Seaton. This has been fixed in the online version. Marketing regrets the error.

Media Articles

Why Rogers bought family-owned radio company TBC

SVP says stations fill a geographic need in Southwestern Ontario market

National Magazine Awards to be reformatted for 2017

Non-profit organization pledges a 'more focused' number of awards and international judges

Shomi subscribers binge-watch before service shuts down

Expert points out challenges in on-demand video space

Facebook says advertiser base passes four million mark

Social giant says 40% of active clients have created an ad for mobile devices

Global introduces explosive promo for Timeless

Experimental campaign puts Yorkdale shoppers on the site of the Hindenburg disaster

IAB report shows most people shifting to mobile commerce

Research suggests mobile ads and social media play a big role in driving purchases

Quebec newspaper coalition seeks funding for survival

Group wants province to help with shift to digital, abolish sales tax

CTV, Global each proclaim early Fall TV ratings victory

Kevin Can Wait and Bull among the early success stories, networks say

Rogers adding to its radio portfolio in Ontario

Telecom giant agrees to purchase stations that serve Southwestern Ontario