Imax-imum branding

Consulting firm hired to extend format reach

Imax has hired management-consulting firm Highgate Partners to extend its brand to new product categories such as consumer electronics and photography even as a sale of the giant-screen pioneer heats up.

“Imax is exploring ways in which they can take the brand and leverage it into the consumer areas through licensing relationships,” spokesman Al Newman said. “Highgate will now go out and look for targets of opportunity and approach those potential partners.”

Last month, Imax hired investment firms Wasserstein, Perella — its biggest institutional investor — and Goldman, Sachs to conduct a search for media groups or other companies willing to buy all or part of Imax. Wasserstein, Perella is looking to cash out of its 30% state in Imax, but the Toronto-based company also is interested in finding a home in a bigger conglom whose other operations offer a good strategic fit.

In addition to its film projection systems for 2-D and 3-D giant-screen theaters, Imax also holds patents on technology that are key to a cutting-edge system for projecting movies by digital means.

Potential suitors

Disney has been considered a possible Imax buyer, because its feature animation library can easily be converted to Imax exhibition, much like its “Fantasia 2000,” currently enjoying a second release in the Imax format. Sony Pictures Entertainment and Liberty Media also are considered potential suitors, largely because of their strategic interest in digital-projection systems.

Also, word spread just last week that Time Warner is also among the possible Imax bidders. A company spokesman declined comment.

“I hear it’s going well,” Credit Suisse First Boston analyst Daniel O’Neill said of the bidding process. “I think Imax has a good shot at finding someone to buy them for $35 a share or more.”

Imax shares closed up 32¢ at $27.25 on Friday.

O’Neill said Wall Street sources indicate Imax co-CEOs Richard Gelfond and Bradley Wechsler already have targeted their next business venture — an unspecified Internet company — on the assumption the Imax auction will be a success and allow their exit from the company, which they took public in 1994. The Imax spokesman said he had no information on future professional plans of Gelfond and Wechsler.

Bids close in October

Imax briefing books were mailed July 17, and officials suggest the bidding process could be concluded by October. The Imax spokesman noted the newly announced brand-extension campaign can’t really kick into gear until the sale process is finalized.

“The company has been looking at doing something like this with its brand for some time,” Newman said of the Highgate hiring. “But they won’t enter into anything while the company is in play.”

Said Gelfond and Wechsler in a statement: “The Imax brand is known around the world for the highest-quality, family entertainment presented via images that are unsurpassed in size, clarity, impact and sound. The worldwide awareness of the Imax brand and its strong attributes may create significant opportunities to license the brand into other products and markets.”

CS First Boston’s O’Neill suggested the brand-extension campaign may be a modest one, however.

“I can see extending the Imax brand to high-end home theater systems,” the analyst said. “But outside of that, I can’t see a whole lot of opportunities for them.”