The entertainment company plans to take its final screen count to 17 by the end of 2017 in partnership with PVR and Inox.
Canadian entertainment technology company IMAX Corporation, best known for its immersive cinema screens, is aiming to ramp up its presence in India where its growth has been sluggish compared to high growth markets like China, Europe and Russia. Launched in Mumbai in 2001, the company could add only six screens till 2015. But over the past two years, it has signed deals with major multiplex players like PVR, Inox and Cinépolis, raising its screen count at a brisk pace.
John Schreiner, SVP theatre development, Russia, CIS, Middle East, India and South East Asia for IMAX Corp, tells BrandWagon that the pace of development today compared to early 2000s has dramatically increased. “In the last 18 months, we have opened five new theatres, and plan to launch five more by the end of 2017. This will take our total screen count to 17, which is good growth.”
The new screens will be in partnership with PVR for six screens and Inox for three screens. IMAX has already launched two theatres in partnership with Cinépolis — in Pune (2016) and Mumbai (2014). Five screens with PVR will open by 2018 end.
While most of its theatres will open in metros — Mumbai, Delhi and Bengaluru, IMAX plans to expand outside major markets. Its first bet in this direction happened last year in Pune with Cinépolis. Encouraged by the response, it now has plans to launch a theatre in Kolkata with Inox in 2018.
The growth for IMAX comes amidst several challenges, which the company is trying to work around. While India is a strategic market for IMAX, it features way below other international markets in terms of market size. The largest market for IMAX is China, where the tech giant now has over 400 screens. “We continue to grow dramatically in China and are seeing fast-paced cinema development in the market. It is the biggest contributor to the company in terms of growth,” states Schreiner.
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IMAX had signed its largest deal in 2016 to create 150 additional theatres with Wanda Cinemas in China. But a deal of that stature cannot be replicated in India, where Schreiner says the largest player PVR has just over 500 screens, while Wanda operates over 1,000 movie screens. Its other large markets include Europe where it has recently signed a 25 theatre deal with AMC’s Odeon Cinemas Group; and Russia, where IMAX launched its 60th theatre recently. Organic screen addition in India is limited due to the real estate slowdown. Multiplexes rely on malls but the slow pace of development along with a long licensing process is further obstructing the growth of multiplexes.
“The development of malls and retail chains in other markets hasn’t taken as much time as it does in India,” highlights Schreiner. “We have been working on projects, where malls will come up five years down the line.” The long development cycle and the lengthy process to get permits further hamper growth prospects.
Scripting the way ahead
Multiplex players are learning to work around challenges and retrofitting screens seems to be the way to go. IMAX recently worked with Inox to convert the theatre in R City Mall, Mumbai. Another way the company grows is by associating with Bollywood films and converting them for release into an IMAX print, which is an expensive bet, given the low screen count. Hence, only two movies have been converted into IMAX print — Dhoom 3 and Bang Bang.
“When we crossed the 10 theatre threshold, we thought we needed to do more films in IMAX format. Now we have converted Baahubali 2: The Conclusion,” says Schreiner. With technological advances, IMAX too continues to evolve and has recently premiered its new laser system at a theatre in Russia while also setting up a pilot test centre in Los Angeles to test VR. It also claims to be developing a camera with Google to make VR content and is investing to make films as well. IMAX has also signed a deal with Warner Bros for the upcoming Justice League movie to release exclusively in VR in IMAX screens.