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    Friday, June 20, 2008

    Reuters - Big-screen giant Imax eyes digital future

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    Big-screen giant Imax eyes digital future

    Friday, Jun 20, 2008 10:36AM UTC

    By Carolyn Giardina and Paul Bond

    LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - Imax Corp. is going digital.

    The giant of the large-screen format is beginning one of the biggest initiatives in its 40-year history: switching from 70mm film to a digital system of projection.

    Next month, the company will roll out the first three digital Imax installations with exhibitor AMC Entertainment -- two in Washington and one in Baltimore. Three more will debut in August in Philadelphia. Imax expects to have digital systems deployed at 50 sites by year's end, with the goal of converting its 296 owned or equipped theaters in 40 countries.

    Imax believes that the digital offerings will prompt new installations and more studio films for release in Imax theaters.

    "In 2006, we averaged about 35 new theater signings a year. In the last seven months, we signed 173 new theaters," Imax co-chairman and co-CEO Rich Gelfond says. "That's because of the launch of the digital product."

    New joint-venture agreements include deals with AMC for 100 systems and Regal Cinemas for 31 systems. The deployment has the potential to change the fare offered in the theaters.

    Imax built its business on screening such documentaries as "Space Station" and "Bugs" but in recent years has aimed for such big "tentpole" movies as the Batman and Harry Potter films. It inked a deal this year with DreamWorks Animation that includes Imax distribution of the upcoming "Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa" as well as the studio's first three 3-D titles, starting with "Monsters vs. Aliens" on March 27, 2009, "How to Train Your Dragon" in November 2009 and "Shrek Goes Fourth" in May 2010.

    "Madagascar 2," which opens November 7, is scheduled as the first "wide" digital Imax release, on an expected 35 screens.

    Imax said that it has been talking to six studios about film projects for 2009. During this transition period, Imax will release both film and digital.

    A challenge for the Imax business model always has been studio distribution costs. A 70mm Imax print can cost from $22,000 per print for a 2-D film to $45,000 per print for a 3-D title. According to Gelfond, with digital projection, studios would -- at least initially -- deliver the content as files on a hard drive at a low cost of about $800 per digital Imax "print."

    Most installations will be joint ventures between Imax, which puts up the production equipment and screen, and the theater owner, who covers the cost to retrofit the moviehouse (about $150,000 per auditorium). Box office is split on a negotiated basis.

    In other instances, the theater would purchase the system from Imax, which is about $1.2 million per auditorium plus a minimum royalty to Imax from the exhibitor, which is typically the greater of $50,000 a year or 3% of the total box office.

    Typically, the Imax cut from a studio on any given movie at an Imax theater is 12.5% of the box office gross; Imax ticket prices tend to be 20%-30% more than a traditional movie ticket.

    Imax's digital initiative has been a long time coming, and investors haven't always been enthusiastic about the expensive strategy.

    The company's stock has fluctuated from $30 in 1999 to less than $1 a couple years later after a failed effort to sell itself. It closed Thursday at $7.31 on the Nasdaq, roughly where it was five years ago.

    But Wall Street has taken a liking lately, with five analysts calling the stock a "buy" or "strong buy" and no one calling it a "sell."

    Eric Wold of Merriman Curhan Ford recently told Imax investors that "introduction of a digital system plus more joint-venture deals could reaccelerate theater growth and profitability."

    Reuters/Hollywood Reporter

    Reuters - Watch superheros fight evil -- on your mobile phone

    This article was sent to you from, who uses Reuters Mobile Site to get news and information on the go. To access Reuters on your mobile phone, go to:

    Watch superheros fight evil -- on your mobile phone

    Friday, Jun 20, 2008 5:26AM UTC

    By Sachi Izumi

    TOKYO (Reuters) - After taking on the big and small screens, comic book heroes like Spiderman and Superman may soon be appearing on an even smaller screen -- your mobile phone.

    Suit-clad businessmen reading comic books are a common sight on Japanese trains, but they could soon be poring over their phones with publishers increasingly digitalizing their comics to cash in on the country's mobile-savvy consumers.

    The July 11 launch of Apple Inc's <APPL.O> iPhone could also spur the growth of the mobile comic market as the device's touch-screen would make it easier and more appealing to read comics on handsets, analysts say.

    As the number of mobile phone subscribers approaches 108 million, or 85 percent of Japan's population, carriers are moving away from voice services, beefing up content services and data transmission to increase revenues.

    E-mailing, music-downloads and Internet surfing are already popular, and analysts expect comics to be the next big thing with the number of titles for mobile use soaring recently.

    Comics led the size of the mobile publication market to double in the last business year to 22 billion yen ($204 million), according to Internet and media research firm Impress R&D. The size is almost three times bigger than the e-publication market for PCs.

    "Until now, users had been extensively using mobile phones for emails," said Shinko Securities analyst Tomohiko Okugawa said. "Now that's shifting to games and comics ... this is the area it's going to be very interesting."

    Top mobile phone carriers -- NTT DoCoMo Inc <9437.T>, KDDI Corp <9433.T>, and Softbank Corp <9984.T> -- recently unveiled handsets and services, enhancing features like video downloads and animated e-mails, a move seen benefiting content providers such as MTI Ltd <9438.Q>, DeNA <2432.T> and Dwango <3715.T>.

    "We cannot be ahead of competition just by prices, features and sounds like we used to, and now we have to improve contents and user-friendliness to position ourselves apart from the rivals," said Toshitake Amamiya, general manager of KDDI's content and media division.

    "The importance of contents has been growing ... It is crucial to pursue what we can do in this market where each adult always carries around a mobile phone and uses it as a life tool."

    Nikko Citigroup analyst Hiroshi Yamashina said the bigger, better screens of new cell phones will help make mobile comics more popular.

    Carriers have been releasing handsets in collaboration with popular TV brands, with some of them boasting 3.3-inch screens. Yamashina said the launch of Apple Inc's iPhone would also push up popularity of mobile comics as it can revive the sense of turning pages on its touch-screen.

    (Editing by Miral Fahmy)

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