Imax Pacts with China’s TCL Corp. for High-End Home Theater Systems

Joint venture aims to offer customers digital access to current theatrical releases by 2015

Imax and Chinese consumer electronics giant TCL Corp. see a market for high-end home theater systems in Hong Kong and mainland China.

The large-screen format distrib has pacted with TCL Multimedia Technology Holdings to develop cutting-edge home theater systems for key Chinese territories by 2015. The deal further strengthens Imax’s considerable reach in China.

According to Imax, the new 4K system will allow users to “access current theatrical releases that have been digitally re-mastered into the Imax format.” That might raise the ire of Chinese exhibs, which Imax CEO Richard Gelfond addressed in a prepared statement about the deal.

“While we are very excited about these opportunities, we remain firmly committed to our critical, long-term relationships with our commercial exhibition and studio partners, and to the success of the cinema industry in general,” Gelfond said. “As one of the fastest-growing and most innovative players in the global entertainment technology marketplace, with a strong expertise in display and manufacturing, TCL is an ideal partner to help us change the way people around the world experience their favorite content in the home environment.”

China is currently IMAX’s second largest area of activity after North America. With large screen sites already operating and others on order, it expects soon to have over 300 giant screens in the country. Both China’s Wanda and South Korea’s CJ-CGV have each placed orders for dozens of giant screen cinemas in China.

The Imax-TCL partnership will be run as a joint venture with a board comprised of reps from both companies, chaired by Robert Lister, Imax’s chief business development officer.

“As content viewing in the home is constantly improving, we wanted to stake out an entirely new position in the premium home theater market,” said TCL chairman Li Dongsheng. While high end home theater systems may be out of reach of the vast majority of the population, China’s colossal size means there are vast numbers of people joining the middle classes and also many thousands of millionaires.

By striking the deal with a local manufacturer — in 2012 TCL was rated as the world’s 25th largest consumer electronics company with revenues of over $12 billion — IMAX gets direct access to the sometimes restricted Chinese market. However it will also have to share technology.

TCL has a track record of working with foreign companies. It took over much of the television set and DVD player manufacturing business of France’s Thomson (now Technicolor) and also had a mobile phone production business with France’s Alcatel.

In giant screen cinemas IMAX faces a home-grown Chinese competitor, DMAX which has been adopted by some theaters operated by China Film Group. The scale of DMAX deployment is unclear.


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