Imax sets target of 50 China screens

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 27 June, 2002, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 27 June, 2002, 12:00am

Imax will add three movie theatres in China by the end of next year and envisions the country eventually becoming the company's second-biggest market with 50 of its giant screens, according to co-chairman Richard Gelfond.

'China clearly has the potential to be the second-biggest market in the world. We think it shouldn't be hard to get to 50 theatres over a period of time,' he said.

Nasdaq-listed Imax has two theatres in China, both located at the Shanghai Science and Technology Museum, which began screening films last December.

The company yesterday announced it had signed an agreement with the Heilongjiang Science and Technology Museum for a theatre in the northeast city of Harbin, which will open next year.

Imax has joined with Golden Harvest Entertainment, the Hong Kong film maker and distributor, to develop a commercial-orientated theatre in Shanghai to open this year or early next year.

Imax has also signed an agreement with the Shanghai Film and Television Group to create a simulated ride which incorporates a three-dimensional movie, to open in the city next year.

The company did not reveal financial terms of the three deals.

'China has such a huge diverse population, it's by far the biggest opportunity,' said Mr Gelfond, who is also Imax co-chief executive officer.

Imax has more than 225 theatres in 30 countries and regions, including Hong Kong. The United States leads with 125 theatres, followed by Japan and Canada, which have about 20 each.

Several Chinese state-owned entities had approached Imax about a possible partnership which would allow rapid expansion of the business, but the company was still trying to determine the best course, Mr Gelfond said.

'In China, we've been approached by several bigger entities which want to partner a quicker roll-out of Imax. We're debating the best approach for this market,' he said.

Its two Shanghai theatres usually filled 60 per cent of their seats despite the steep ticket price of 30 yuan (HK$28), Mr Gelfond said. He did not give earnings figures for China.

Imax earns both an up-front fee and an ongoing royalty from each theatre, and also acts as a distributor for some films.

Imax will bring in its traditional fare of educational films to China but it is also moving towards showing commercial blockbusters.

China classifies Imax movies as 'specialty' films, which are not subject to import quotas.

But the movies must still pass state censors, Imax officials said.