Imax profits from 'Avatar' halo effect

Posts record quarterly revenue on back of 12 days release

TORONTO -- That's some "Avatar" halo effect for Imax.

The giant screen exhibitor on Thursday posted a fourth quarter profit and record quarterly revenue on the strength of just the first 12 days of James Cameron's 3D epic adventure picture in its theatres.

Fueled by Twentieth Century Fox's "Avatar," Toronto-based Imax posted a profit for the three months to Dec. 31 of $4 million, or $0.06 per-share, compared to a loss of $9 million, or $0.21 per-share in 2008.

Into the first quarter of 2010, "Avatar 3D" has secured $218 million in combined local and international boxoffice.

And Imax has generated another $20 million to date from another 3D performer, Walt Disney's "Alice in Wonderland."

Imax CEO Rich Gelfond in a morning analyst call argued the halo effect from "Avatar 3D" will bring repeat moviegoers to the Imax circuit and reinforce his company's relationship with Hollywood studios and filmmakers going forward.

The latest quarterly results include an $8.9 million charge due mainly to variable stock compensation after a strong run-up in Imax's stock during the fourth quarter ahead of the "Avatar 3D" release.

Revenue during the latest quarter rose 98% to $54.2 million, against a year-earlier $27.4 million. Besides "Avatar 3D," Disney's "A Christmas Carol" generated another $30.8 million in gross boxoffice during the fourth quarter.

Film revenue increased 104% to $15.1 million, while production and digital-remastering revenues went from $3.4 million to $12 million during the latest quarter.

Fourth quarter Imax systems revenue jumped 69% to $19.6 million. And the giant screen exhibitor installed and recognized revenue on 16 theatre systems, including six digital upgrades, compared to six theatre systems, including one digital upgrade, recognized in 2008.

Revenue from joint revenue sharing theatres jumped five-fold to $9.1 million in the fourth quarter, and Imax installed 22 JV systems, including one digital upgrade, against 27 installations, including one digital upgrade, in the fourth quarter of 2008.