Imax CEO On China Box Office, Big Screen Boom & Company’s New Side Business

Imax chief executive Rich Gelfond said he’s never seen China let as many U.S. titles into country as early as they have this year. After a slowdown in the pace that caused some angst in Hollywood, there’s been a steady stream of releases — although not necessarily a surge in ticket sales — with The Flash, The Little Mermaid and Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny all cleared and upcoming and Mission: Impossible Dead Reckoning likely to be, he told the J.P. Morgan media conference today.

In the past, “they would play little games” and approve films last minute, “but now they are interested in getting their economy jumpstarted and getting people back into malls.”

The results have been mixed. Most recently, Fast X just had a huge opening in China. Little Mermaid presales look slow. The Chinese economy was devastated by Covid and related quarantines, in several waves into last year. “I don’t think it’s…back to normal, because it’s not a light switch…But I think it is headed in that direction at a fairly rapid pace.”

Gelfond also talked more about Ssimwave, a Canadian tech company Imax acquired six months ago. It works with streamers and to a lesser extent broadcasters to optimize how they put content through pipes – specifically the degree of compression ideal for different images. Compression can cut the physical cost of streaming by 20%, he said, or hundreds of million of dollars. It can work with Imax Enhanced, which delivers content to large screen TVs.

One of the company’s products, Ssimwave VOD Monitor, won a Best Product nod for monitoring and measuring tools at NAB in April. Gelfond sees the business starting to have a “meaningful” financial impact for Imax in 2024.

He reiterated Imax’ very valid story to Wall Street that the company is taking a disproportionate share of ticket sales in what he called “the blockbusterization of cinema.” Partly, Imax is charging more. But people “are also coming to Imax in healthy numbers… willing to pay a premium. When they get out, they choose what is special for themselves and their families.” Contracts with theater owners for new installations have jumped.

Gelfond also noted the ramp-up of local language productions that have been crossing borders with success and now make up about a third of total revenue.

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