Joint revenue-sharing agreement biggest ever for theater operator

Giant-screen theater operator Imax has inked its biggest ever cinema-building deal, signing a 75-theater joint revenue-sharing agreement with China’s Wanda Cinema Line Corp.

Imax has been enormously successful in tapping China’s market, breaking through where other exhibitors have failed. The Wanda deal is Imax’s first full revenue-sharing agreement in the country.

The Ontario-based group reckons that the contribution to sales from China will increase to 25% in the next five years, from 10% now.

“Wanda Cinema Line is the largest theater operator in China and is on a very aggressive build-out trajectory,” Imax CEO Richard Gelfond told a news conference in Beijing attended Wanda chairman Wang Jianlin and Mao Yu, deputy director of China’s powerful State Administration of Radio, Film and Television.

The deal brings the number of Imax theaters slated to be open in China to 177 over the next few years.

“China is the fastest-growing market in the world for Imax. In 2010, our Chinese box office was 286 million yuan ($43.5 million), up tenfold from the previous year. We doubled the size of our theater network, and were privileged that our first foreign Imax film, ‘Aftershock,’ became the highest-grossing movie in China’s history,” Gelfond said.

Imax intends to capitalize on this success with two more locally made films — Han Sanping’s “Founding of a Party,” which will open this summer, and John Woo’s “Flying Tigers,” due to be released early next year.

With 71 plexes and 600 screens, Wanda has a 15% market share and has constantly strengthened its position as the top exhibitor in China.

Imax is forming a unit, Imax China, to oversee the expansion of its biz. It plans to open 100 theaters a year for the next two to three years.

The news conference was attended by Mao Yu, deputy director of China’s powerful State Administration of Radio, Film and Television and Wanda chairman Wang Jianlin.

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