Imax CEO to Press Cinemas on Laser Projection’s Brighter Future

Imax Corp., coming off the “Furious 7” premiere using its new laser projector, will step up efforts to sell theaters on the technology’s brighter, crisper images, Chief Executive Officer Rich Gelfond said.

The operator of large-screen cinemas will show off the system to exhibitors at a screening day to be held at the TCL Chinese theater in Los Angeles after the industry’s annual CinemaCon gathering in Las Vegas next week, Gelfond said.

“A lot of global exhibitors are going to fly back through L.A. and they are going to see our system for the first time,” Gelfond said in a phone interview. “When we see what the reception is, then we will have a better idea of how broad the rollout is.”

Imax has signed 71 deals to install the system, which delivers bigger and brighter images, especially in 3-D, in new locations and existing ones. The company is counting on the technology to boost ticket sales for its biggest screens, keep the Imax name distinct competing large-screen formats and give fans more reason to pay its $3 to $4 premium per ticket.

About 50 of the Mississauga, Ontario-based company’s biggest screens still use film prints that cost as much as $60,000 each, because the current digital technology can’t provide a bright enough image over such a large area, according to Eric Wold, a B. Riley & Co. analyst who recommends the stock.

Those theaters, some operated by Imax and others under license by major exhibitors, also miss out on blockbuster films such as the sci-fi hit “Gravity” that are only delivered in digital format.

“With the laser system, both of those issues are solved,” Wold said.

Secret Test

Imax tested the system with the release of “The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies,” in December, without disclosing the location. “Furious 7,” the Universal Pictures car-chase film, was the first to have its worldwide premiere screened with laser projection at the TCL in Los Angeles.

A second laser projector in Los Angeles will be installed at AMC Entertainment Holdings Inc.’s Universal CityWalk multiplex this year, Gelfond said. The Toronto-based Cineplex ScotiaBank theater also has the system.

This year, Imax expects to install laser projectors at 15 to 20 of the locations where it has deals. With the ability to project on screens as wide as 140 feet, the exhibitor is focusing initially on iconic sites such as the Empire Leicester Square in London, AMC’s Lincoln Square in New York City, Darling Harbour in Sydney and the Imax Smithsonian in Washington. The company has 934 screens worldwide.

The rest will be introduced over the “next couple of years,” Gelfond said, with China ordering the most so far. The cost is prohibitive for some operators, and Gelfond said he didn’t think it would be “really widespread for a number of years.”

Imax has invested $60 million in the system, including the cost of acquiring the technology from Eastman Kodak Co., according to the company. Imax is projecting at least $1 million more in gross profit from the introduction this year. That will increase going forward, executives said on their February earnings call.

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