Imax seeks to repair blog complaint damage

Investors day conference used to trumpet Imax experience

TORONTO -- Imax Corp. worked hard Wednesday to repair the damage done a day earlier by "Parks and Recreation" co-star Aziz Ansari when he complained he paid $5 more to see "Star Trek" on an Imax/AMC screen barely bigger than a existing 35mm screen.

Imax executives spent the better part of the morning during their investors day conference trumpeting how the "Imax experience" is more immersive than traditional cinema-going, rather than woo investors with their usual pep talk about how the current digital projection and joint-venture theatre rollout will restore profitability this year.

"We know there are risks we don't see," Imax CEO Rich Gelfond conceded after being blind-sided Tuesday by Ansari's comments on the blogosphere about shrinking Imax digital screens at the local multiplex.

Gelfond told investors the current premium ticket price for Hollywood movies on Imax screens is warranted because the large format exhibitor offers more than screen size, and in particular the digitally-remastering of Hollywood movies for superior screen resolution and sound.

"There's a lot more to it than putting a (digital) projector on a larger screen or a theatre that's been retrofitted. It's a very complicated, fully integrated, end-to-end solution," he said of new digital Imax screens.

Investors were also told Imax has under patent the ability to remove the first four rows of seats in an auditorium to bring a multiplex screen closer to an audience, and so dramatically improve the field of vision.

Ansari's comments challenges Imax because the giant screen exhibitor has figured out how to retrofit existing multiplex auditoriums with a new digital projection system at a lower cost and higher return for exhibitors.

The drawback is patrons at the local multiplex will encounter a far smaller version of the grand canyon-sized theatre for which the brand has long been synonymous.

At the same time, the digitally-remastering of Hollywood movies means the major studios can get their product on Imax screens at virtually no extra cost, Gelfond told investors.

New digital screens are also key to Imax being able to project 3D movies, which earn the premium ticket price.

Gelfond said the major studios will see value in Imax 3D screens as long as the number of 3D-capable screens at local multiplexes, at around 2,000 currently, remains well below the 5,000 screens initially anticipated by now.