Hat Trick moves into films

BY MATHEW HORSMAN

VCI, the UK audio and video publishing company, is teaming up with Hat Trick Productions, makers of popular TV series such as Drop the Dead Donkey and Have I Got New For You to get into the film business.

VCI, best known for its range of mid-price video and audio cassettes, will put up £250,000 initially to take 49 per cent in Hat Trick Films, with the possibility of another £450,000 between now and September 1996.

The company stressed it would not take part in financing film production itself, but rather the development of scripts. Hat Trick Films intends to develop up to 10 scripts a year, at a cost of about £50,000 each. In return, VCI will share profits on a pro-rated basis and secure UK video rights to all films produced under the joint venture label.

Chief executive Steve Ayres said that the deal would provide a "catalogue of potentially highly successful programming for our video business". VCI, with sales in 1994 of £60m, holds rights to the best-selling Shape Challenge fitness video, children's titles such as Thomas the Tank Engine and many of Hat Trick's TV programmes. It also makes audio cassettes under the MCI and Music Club brands and has a small CD-ROM list.VCI also distributes the products of other audio, video and computer software publishers.

Hat Trick Productions was set up in 1986 by the producers of such programmes as HitchHiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Radio Active and Spitting Image. The company has been responsible for Clive Anderson Talks Back andWhose Line is It Anyway.

The film business marks a departure forHat Trick. Denise O'Donoghue, managing director, said the company would apply "the same editorial rigour and financial management" for which its TV arm is known.

Several software publishers, on their own or through joint ventures, have been looking at making products for their range of audio, video and compact disc formats. Philips New Media, part of the electronic giant Philips, has been working with Irish band U2 and a creative team to develop an interactive CD-ROM game using the band's music. Publisher Dorling Kindersley is also expanding its range of CD-ROM titles.

"Content is king" is the new mantra in the publishing business.

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