IMAX INVADES U.K.

3-D specialist bows Euro expansion plans

LONDON (Reuters) — Imax Corp. on Wednesday launched Britain’s first 3-D cinema and pledged to concentrate its expansion plans on Europe.

“We see Europe as a large and fertile area of expansion,” said Brad Wechsler, chairman and co-CEO of the Canadian company, which now has more than 150 theaters operating in 22 countries.

Wechsler said the company was focusing on Europe for expansion in preference to Asia or South America.

Pushing forward

Imax has invested approximately $150 million in Europe over the last 25 years. “Over the next two to three years, we expect another $100 million plus,” Wechsler said.

“We have opened an office in Singapore and been very successful in doing some deals. But when currencies devalue at 15-20%, people are in a bit of a wait-and-see mode,” he said.

“In South America, there is less opportunity in aggregate than in Europe. In North America, there is one Imax theater for every 4 million people. In Europe, it is one for every 22 million people. We view Europe as being underscreened,” he added.

Wechsler was looking for major expansion in new multiplex cinemas where Imax would be one of the options offered.

The new London cinema in the Piccadilly Circus area boasts state-of-the art technology with special headsets to enjoy the three-dimensional “cinema rides.”

Meeting expectations

On the prospects for the company, he said, “In 1997, we have been hitting a number of records” and he reiterated the position spelled out by Imax in October.

“We are comfortable with analysts’ predictions of 65¢ to 70¢ per share in 1997. That is more than 35% year-over-year growth,” he said.

The U.K. screen is seven stories high and the £6 million ($10 million) auditorium can hold 300 people.

Bonded approval

The cinema won an early convert when former James Bond Roger Moore watched an inaugural screening.

“It is a wonderful experience. I’ve been up on stage with dancing girls in a Broadway theatre, flown through a city and it is the best cinema of its type that I’ve seen. The good thing is that almost any film will translate into 3-D,” he said.

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