Imax EMEA President Sees Room for 400-450 Screens in Region

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LONDON – Imax is focused on growing its theater network in Europe, the Middle East and Africa with room to expand its 99 operating and 30 planned screens in the region to up to 400-450 over time, Andrew Cripps, the company’s president, EMEA, said here Friday.

The former Paramount Pictures International president, who just joined the large-screen film company about three months ago, also told reporters that Imax is looking at ways to make 3D glasses disposable and planning a U.S. test run with a theater with two Imax screens, while touting the company's laser projection strategy, which he said will be rolled out starting in the fourth quarter of 2013.

Cripps spoke at a media event held at an Imax location at an Odeon movie theater in London’s Swiss Cottage neighborhood.

Asked about his early focus, Cripps told THR that “growing the network has to be our biggest target in Europe.” He also said during a presentation on Friday that his region could sustain as many as 400-450 screens. “It tells you there is a great growth opportunity” given about 450 million consumers in the region, which is the company’s third-largest behind North America and Asia, he said. “Imax has identified Europe as a key growth opportunity for 2012 along with Latin America.”

The company is currently in 29 EMEA territories and expects to add Ireland early next year. After recent expansions into Kenya and Morocco, he also said that “Africa will be something we can develop” over time.

Imax recently announced plans for two screens in the same Montreal multiplex, which Cripps said makes sense given the city has a bilingual population. “That seems like a really good idea,” he told THR. “We will also test this in the near future in the U.S. With the higher number of films we have these days, this would be interesting, especially in peak seasons where you can offer an extended run of one blockbuster and add a new one. This would give us much more programming flexibility.”

Imax is working with U.S. exhibition partners to identify possible locations for such a trial there, he said.

Talking about the Imax 4K Laser Projection System, Cripps said that it will be “far superior to anything in the market currently” and hopefully for years to come.

The technology, which the company has showcased to about 15 studios, filmmakers and other partners, will allow Imax to light larger screens for brighter colors and more contrast, reduce costs and build larger new screens. A video played on Friday showed some of the benefits of the new technology.

Addressing the issue of disposable glasses, Cripps told THR that Imax is researching the topic, but is not likely  to launch an initiative before next year. He said there was “big demand” from film exhibitors for a new way of doing business as they spend personnel and other resources on collecting and cleaning 3D glasses.

“Theaters find it time-consuming to collect glasses,” he said. Any solution would have to be environmentally friendly, meaning that glasses may be recyclable or even biodegradable, he said.

Asked by reporters about his transition from Paramount to Imax, he said: “I really enjoy Imax. It's a different side of the business. I really believe in the Imax product.” Asked by THR about how he could enhance Imax’s business with his background, he said “I understand what studios are looking for and have exhibitor relationships.”

During his presentation, he mentioned three things that attracted him to Imax. First, “I was a big fan of Imax at Paramount,” he said. Second, “the model seems to work” given Imax’s continued expansion. And third, improving in-home theater technology means that consumers “will be more demanding” when it comes to their theater experience, where Imax continues to raise the bar, he added.

“It's going to be a great year at the box office,” Cripps predicted, highlighting double-digit gains for the year to-date.

Early release windows, which the company has used for the most recent Mission: Impossible film, among others, and local film fare that the company shows only in certain countries or regions are among two continuing priorities for Imax, he said.

Among the videos that Cripps and Hugh Murray, senior vp, film production showed Friday were scenes from The Amazing Spider-Man, The Dark Knight Rises and Prometheus.

One video showed such filmmakers as David Cameron and Ridley Scott touting the benefits of shooting in Imax.

Email: Georg.Szalai@thr.com

Twitter: @georgszalai

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