Megaplexes in Phoenix, Detroit will be retro-fitted

TORONTO — AMC Entertainment and Imax have entered into a five-theater joint venture, and brass at the Toronto-based largescreen exhibitor are terming the deal a “watershed transaction.”

The five Imax screens will be retrofitted at top-performing megaplexes in Kansas City, Detroit, Phoenix, Oklahoma City and Omaha. The screens will be using the MPX format, which is lower-cost than traditional Imax theaters.

Deal is a significant coup for Imax on a number of levels, said co-chair and co-CEO Rich Gelfond. “When you look at the places you want to put an Imax theater, it would be one of the best multiplexes in a community, and these all fit that bill,” he noted. Each theater megaplex enjoys auds of between a million and 1.5 million per year.

The turnaround time is short. The first two are skedded to open in mid-June, in time for the release of “Batman Begins” and “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” and the other three will open in tandem with the release of “Magnificent Desolation: Walking on the Moon 3-D” in September.

“In the old days of Imax, which was not so long ago,” said Gelfond, “you had to build a building, and it would take a year to 18 months. In this case, only two months after you sign it’s going to be open.”

Deal is the first between AMC, the world’s second-largest theater chain with more than 3,500 screens, and Imax, which has 248 theaters in more than 35 countries. Terms of the deal were not released, but Gelfond is hopeful that the Hollywood studios will be edified to see Imax growing in major media markets, allowing the company to capitalize more effectively on its day-and-date release strategy. For the Thanksgiving release of “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire,” for example, there are now five more screens on which the film will appear than WB thought they had a day ago, he noted.

These five screens bring the number of commercial exhibitor screens in North America unspooling Hollywood event pics to just shy of 50.

Deal marks one of the company’s first joint ventures. Imax and AMC will share the cost of retrofitting the theaters, which Gelfond noted are ideally proportioned for the job, but Imax will receive a larger ongoing slice of box office revenue than its traditional deal structure allows, which involves a one-time payment from the exhibitor and a smaller slice of the B.O. pie. “As our business gets more mature, we’re always looking for ways to change our model from one-time payments to more recurring payments,” said Gelfond.

Imax shares closed the day in Toronto up 6.52% at C$11.76 ($9.44).

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