Imax plans expansion in Asia

Exhibitor in talks with five Chinese companies

HONG KONG -- Giant-screen movie operator Imax said Tuesday that it was in talks with at least five film companies in China as the company moves to cement its presence in Asia.

"The U.S. has 300 million people with 35,000 screens. China has 1.3 billion people and 4,000 screens. The opportunity speaks for itself," chairman and president of Filmed Entertainment Greg Foster said.

In June, Imax announced a film deal with Huayi Brothers, China's biggest studio, for Imax's first foreign-language film, "Aftershock," scheduled for release in 2010.

The Canadian company has 20 theaters in China, and Don Savant, senior vp and managing director, Asia Pacific, said that by 2013, Imax would have more than 30 theaters in commercial multiplexes in China.

He said demand in China remained robust for Imax theater tickets, which are typically 50% more expensive than average ticket prices for ordinary cinemas.

"In China they are willing to pay a 30%-100% premium," Savant said. He added that while Imax was expanding its presence in second- and third-tier cities, Shanghai and Beijing still offered large opportunities.

"There are big areas of the cities that are underserved. We could have six Imax locations in each city," he said.

Imax, known for digitally remastering Hollywood blockbusters, posted a third-quarter profit of $1.1 million compared with a loss of $2.1 million a year earlier.

Imax's profit for the whole of 2009 was expected to be $5.2 million, according to Reuters estimates, after it posted full-year losses for the previous two years.

Foster said Imax's Asian expansion would focus on China, but it was also looking for deals in Singapore, Indonesia and Malaysia.

Imax, which debuted its digital screen technology at the 1970 World Expo in Osaka, has joint venture agreements with Regal Cinemas, a subsidiary of Regal Entertainment Group and AMC Entertainment.

Headquartered in Toronto and New York, Imax's share price has soared 104% since the start of the year.