Imax has big plans for Asia

Company setting tough standards for cinemas

Like the theatrical experience it offers elsewhere, Imax’s expansion plans in Asia are large scale. The Ontario-based company has spent the last 18 months inking deals in a majority of Asian territories, but rather than the previous modus operandi of licensing cinemas to whoever wanted one, the new strategy in Asia is slightly more discerning.

“We have three criteria: We need to be in a market that plays to family-orientated audiences and the 15-30 demographic; it must be in a multiplex that generates significant business and is an anchor tenant; and we will be in business only with the best multiplex operators,” says Greg Foster, chairman and president of filmed entertainment at Imax.

Tough standards, but the large-format operator has the deals to back it up. The company recently inked an agreement with SM Prime Holdings, the largest mall operator in the Philippines, to install two Imax digital projection systems in shopping malls in the cities of Cebu and Manila, bringing the total number of Imax screens in the country to three by the end of 2009. In Hong Kong, the company partnered with Lark/UA Cinemas to add a second screen, also by the end of 2009.

The main focus for the company, however, is in mainland China, Japan and India, in that order.

Foster says China is Imax’s largest market outside of the U.S. The company has linked with fast-growing Chinese exhibitor Wanda Cinema Line to install 10 Imax screens in cities such as Beijing, Chongqing and Changsha.

According to the company, deal means an expected 40 Imax screens in China by 2012. Company also sees a great demand for Imax films on the mainland, and expects a Chinese blockbuster will be digitally remastered in the Imax format by 2010.

In Japan, where Imax installations have traditionally occupied educational and scientific institutions, the company recently signed a four-theater deal with exhibitor Tokyu Recreation. The first Imax theaters are to open in Yokohama and Tokyo in early 2009 to capitalize on the release of the immensely popular franchise “Transformers 2: The Imax Experience.”

In India, the company has pacted with Sathyam Cinemas for a total of four Imax cinemas. The subcontinent remains one of Imax’s fastest-growing markets, with 11 screens scheduled to open in the country by year’s end.

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