IMAX intent on maximum expansion

Article  by  Karl DEMYTTENAERE  •  Published 21.03.2013  •  Updated 21.03.2013
[NEWS] In keeping with its screen size, IMAX witnessed extra-large growth in 2012. The company is reaping the fruits of an ambitious strategy rooted both in its network of theatres and its local partnerships.

In 2012, IMAX Corp’s net revenues jumped by nearly 170% as compared to the previous year. These results confirm the strategy of CEO Richard Gelfond: “We executed on all key fronts, with the combination of network expansion and an increasingly global portfolio”, he recently stated. The Toronto-based company opened 142 new cinemas around the world in 2012. Thanks to the digital conversion of most of the world’s movie theatres, the cost of installing IMAX equipment has dropped radically, coming to 150,000 dollars today, as compared to five million dollars in the early days of IMAX in the mid-1990s. With screens measuring an average of 22 meters long and 16 meters high, IMAX theatres require highly specific installation procedures.
To convert the world’s theatres to this technology developed in Canada in the 1970s, the company has established local partnerships. For example, in 2012, IMAX signed an agreement with Wanda Cinemas, the largest cinema chain in China, to build and install 75 giant screens. Today, there are no fewer than 660 IMAX-equipped theatres in nearly 52 countries around the world.
In addition to expanding its network of theatres, IMAX is also banking on film production to encourage growth. Feature films must be shot with special equipment in order to take advantage of the technical possibilities offered by IMAX, and manage to attract crowds to the equipped theatres. For several years, the company has been seeking to reposition itself, placing family-oriented productions aside in favor of films geared for fan communities willing to more regularly frequent its theatres. IMAX thus bet on the latest opus in the Transformers series[+] NoteTransformers Revenge of the FallenX [1] and Christopher Nolan’s most recent episode of the Batman saga[+] NoteThe Dark Knight RisesX [2] to motivate aficionados. Nolan[+] NoteAlso director of Inception, partially shot in IMAX.X [3] has furthermore undertaken a new project with the Canadian company entitled Interstellar, which will be released in theatres in November 2014.
Thanks to other partnerships, IMAX is going even further in screening some major productions exclusively in its theatres. Its agreement with Universal will allow it to release Oblivion[+] NoteBy Joseph Kosinski, with Tom Cruise.X [4] on April 12, 2013, one week before the official U.S. release, while the agreement with Paramount will allow it to release Star Trek into Darkness[+] NoteBy Jeffrey Jacob Abrams, with Chris Pine.X [5] two days before its official release date. However, film programming and distribution is challenging, especially for a global player such as IMAX: “You have to program on a worldwide basis and at the same time, choose the best movies for domestic markets”, Gelfond explains.

Finding the right balance is difficult, especially in China, which represents a promising market but one not devoid of idiosyncrasies. Among the most prominent: a government that attempts to control the release of foreign films on its soil. IMAX is thus seeking to win over audiences, filling movie theatres with local productions such as Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons by Hong Kong director Stephen Chow. Released in theatres on February 10, 2013, the movie is the first in a series of six Chinese productions that IMAX will be screening this year.

Banking on emerging markets is clearly part of IMAX’s strategy, but at times, the Canadian giant faces ingrained cultural habits. In India, the world’s largest film market[+] Notein terms of the number of films produced and tickets soldX [6], IMAX is struggling despite nearly a decade of presence in the country, due to the fact that Indian audiences are extremely different from China’s, with firmly entrenched movie-going practices: they frequently go to see local low budget films in small theatres for three dollars a ticket. Such habits are hardly compatible with what IMAX has to offer: Hollywood super-productions screened in massive theatres at nearly 15 dollars a ticket. “In China, we could build from the start. It’s harder to change people’s habits”, says Gelfond. To seduce in the capricious Indian market, the head of IMAX is banking on the emergence of the middle class, with a pronounced taste for large international productions. But Gelfond is not betting on this factor alone: he has also partnered with Bollywood heavyweight Yash Raj Films Studio to coproduce Dhoom 3, the latest opus in a highly successful series, and to shoot it in IMAX format.
Despite the obstacles encountered in India, IMAX witnessed extremely strong growth on a worldwide level in 2012, and is set to persist in its expansion. The company has announced the planned opening of 110 to 125 new theatres around the world in 2013.
Translated from French by Sara Heft
Photo Credits:
- nasa hq photo / Flickr
- Jun Acullador /Flickr
  • 1. Transformers Revenge of the Fallen
  • 2. The Dark Knight Rises
  • 3. Also director of Inception, partially shot in IMAX.
  • 4. By Joseph Kosinski, with Tom Cruise.
  • 5. By Jeffrey Jacob Abrams, with Chris Pine.
  • 6. in terms of the number of films produced and tickets sold
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