Monday, February 2, 2009

In Recession, Imax Shines

The key to Imax's weathering the economic storm has been its transition from a film-based platform to digital and to a business that relies on joint ventures as opposed to sales.

Imax will go from 150 commercial theaters showing Hollywood blockbusters on giant screens to 350 in the next three years. Each projector costs Imax about $500,000, while theater owners contribute $150,000.

But Imax gets a 12.5 percent cut of box-office grosses, so cash flow from earlier screens are paying for the installation of future ones. Plus, a $50 million financing package already in place is especially helpful during the current credit crunch.


Having "The Dark Knight" in its corner has helped as well. The second most commercially successful title in global film history has racked up $63 million in ticket sales at 130 Imax screens, not counting the current re-release of the Batman feature. That's an Imax record for a Hollywood blockbuster.

Barring a drop-off in theater attendance, this year ought to be a stellar one for Imax, with potential giant-screen hits "Watchmen," "Star Trek," "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen," "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince" and "Avatar," among others.

Coming to Imax in March is "Monsters vs. Aliens" from DreamWorks Animation, another business doing well despite the economy.

Unlike many of the major studio conglomerates, which are invested heavily in the television station business, "DWA has zero advertising exposure," says Steve Birenberg of Northlake Capital Management.

"Earnings should be flat to higher in 2009," Birenberg says of DWA. "Very few other media companies can come anywhere near to flat in 2009."

Plus, DWA and Imax hold key stakes in one of the more bullish areas in the entertainment industry: 3-D movies.

A 60-page report issued in January by Piper Jaffray says 3-D upgrades could help the exhibition business buck a recession into 2010 and 2011. Such theater chains as Regal, Cinemark and Carmike stand to benefit significantly from transitioning as many as 20 percent of their theaters to the format.

Some 3D Projects Noted:
Of the 40 planned 3D projects, a few of them you may have already heard of:

There’s already been Journey to the Center of the Earth, the previously mentioned Disney’s Pixar computer-animated film Monsters vs. Aliens which is due out next March and James Cameron’s Avatar.

Journey to the Center of the Earth was the first ever live-action film that’s been shot entirely in 3D, but it also had a 2D version out. Pixar studio is now making all of its computer-animated films in 3D.

On top of that, in the “Is Nothing Sacred” category, Disney’s Pixar is redoing Toy Story (I & II) in 3D, and George Lucas is hoping to keep his Star Wars franchise alive by redoing that in 3D.

The Home Viewing Industry:
With the home viewing industry being a nearly $36 billion industry, some big names are looking at how to get 3D into your home. Some of the companies include Disney, Universal, Philips, Samsung, Sony, Thomson and IMAX.

Some sports telecasts have already taken place in 3D and there’s a push to develop TVs where you won’t need glasses at all. (That confuses all three of me.)

The idea is that since Hi-Def made such an impact, 3D HD will be even bigger. Right now we already have some 3D products in the home. An estimated 1 million 3D-ready HDTVs made by Mitsubishi and Samsung are already in U.S. homes. The basic concept from the Philips brand is to place a lens over the screen to create the effect.


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