In China, an Imax called Wanda


Riding China's multiplex-building wave, giant-screen exhibitor Imax has inked a 10-theater deal with domestic cinema developer Wanda Cinema Line.

Toronto-based Imax said Wednesday that Wanda Cinema has agreed to install 10 screens in high-end multiplexes it plans to build and open by the end of 2010.

The first two theaters will launch in December in the cities of Changsha and Changchun. Wanda also has identified Beijing, Chongqing and Wuxi as possible markets. Each supersized screen in a Wanda Cinema multiplex will be able to play digitally remastered Hollywood movies as well as traditional Imax films in 2-D and 3-D.

Imax co-CEO Rich Gelfond said he was drawn to Wanda Cinema because its parent, the Dalian-based Wanda Group, is a major property developer in China. As a result, Wanda can control the pace of its aggressive building plans.

"They are one of the few multiplex operators that controls their own fate," Gelfond said. "Most multiplex operators need to go to a mall (developer) and cut a deal."

Gelfond added that the Wanda Group sees value in Imax screens bringing additional traffic to its core cinema and shopping mall businesses.

"Imax is a world-class brand that has been received exceptionally well across Asia, and we are very excited to include the Imax theater business as an integral part of our present and future growth," Wanda Cinema GM Bao Jiazhong said.

The Chinese exhibitor, which opened its doors in 2005 and operates 121 screens in 15 locations, will build its first three Imax theaters as traditional MPX multiplex-based systems.

Wanda Cinema also has agreed to install Imax digital projection systems in the other seven theaters it proposes to build once that technology becomes available in late 2008 or early '09. The Chinese firm also has the option of upgrading its initial three MPX theater systems to digital and might pay a penalty if it chooses not to build the final five Imax theater systems called for by the deal.

Gelfond expects Wanda Cinema eventually to own and operate 15-20 Imax screens by 2010 as it continues building multiplexes in China. Wanda is expected to open 10 new multiplexes with 80 screens this year alone, bringing its stable to about 200 screens, Imax said.

The Chinese chain then plans to add 100-150 screens each year from 2008-10. By 2010, Wanda Cinema expects to own and run about 600 screens in 70 multiplexes, representing a 30% share of the Chinese exhibition market.

The deal with Wanda brings to 39 the number of screens Imax expects to have open in the territory by the end of 2010.