Imax expanding in China; Dish added subs

A disparate trio of stocks, Imax, Dish and Liberty, led the showbiz sector higher Thursday with a combo of upbeat earnings and solid 2012 outlook.

Imax shares jumped 4.5% to $25.05 at their high Thursday on international expansion in China, which has been warming to Hollywood and where the large-screen exhibitor has been making a major push. Stifel Nicolaus analyst Benjamin Mogil sees the stock heading to $27.

Satcaster Dish added 22,000 subscribers last quarter after losing them for most of the year, allaying jitters that new streaming services will erode the traditional distribution biz. Dish shares also rose about 4.5% to $30.49 during the day, pulling DirecTV, Comcast, Time Warner Cable and Cablevision behind on a wave of optimism. All outpaced the broader market, which was up only slightly.

Meanwhile, John Malone continues to move his assets around like toys in a sandbox to attract investors as Liberty Interactive saw its stock jump 6% after announcing plans to issue two new tracking stocks. Liberty Interactive will house stakes QVC, HSN and e-commerce. Liberty Ventures will keep Expedia, Time Warner, TW Cable and AOL holdings.

Sister company Liberty Media posted solid numbers for pay TV network Starz.

Imax profit fell last quarter to $6.3 million from $54 million, mostly on a major tax benefit the year before. Revenue eased by $2 million to $67 million.

Without the tax and other items, income fell to $9 million from $14 million, in line with expectations given a soft box office.

The company said 2011 was a year of record signings and installations, with 497 Imax theaters installed in commercial multiplexes, up 33%, led by China, Russia and North America. CEO Rich Gelfond said the company will add focus on South America, including four new theaters in Brazil, Western Europe and India, where a recent deal will bring Bollywood titles to Imax. It will expand local film production from China into Russia and France.

Andrew Cripps, just hired away from Paramount Pictures Intl., will oversee Imax expansion in Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

Fourth quarter’s film highlight was the December early release of Paramount’s “Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol,” with scenes shot using Imax cameras. Imax had the pic to itself for a five-day window before wide release. Separately Thursday, producers announced that the next James Bond pic, “Skyfall,” will appear in Imax theaters simultaneous with its international release Oct. 26 and its domestic release Nov. 9.

This year is anchored by franchise entries including “The Dark Knight Rises,” which will feature more footage shot in Imax than any other feature film to date; “The Avengers”; “Men in Black 3″; “The Amazing Spider-Man”; “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey”; and “Skyfall.”

Imax inked contracts for 209 theater systems last year, including 26 in the fourth quarter, and installed 170 systems, 57 for the quarter. At year end, there were 263 theater systems in backlog. The company expects to install 95 to 100 systems in 2012, half revenue-sharing, half sales pacts.

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