IMAX Bets China's Rich Will Skip Box Office for Lavish Private Theaters

    At $400,000, the new IMAX private theater system available in China is equal parts entertainment venue and status symbol.
    An IMAX private theater system. (Courtesy Image)
    Jessica RappAuthor
      Published   in Fashion
    An IMAX private theater system. (Courtesy Image)
    An IMAX private theater system. (Courtesy Image)

    IMAX is giving wealthy Chinese the luxury to stay home for that next blockbuster to come to the big screen. All they need is $400,000 and a large house to fit the gargantuan 20-feet-by-10-feet screens.

    The Canadian company partnered with Chinese company TCL Multimedia Technology Holdings Ltd. to launch its home theater system earlier this summer at an event in Shanghai, according to media reports. Showing off another wave of confidence that China's burgeoning film scene is a worthwhile investment, IMAX Holding China Inc. was also listed on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange earlier this month, and signed deals to install 22 more screens in China.

    Having an IMAX theater in the home means having an audio system, projector, and wall treatments to hold in the booming sound to complement the massive screens, but the homeowner would have to take care of the rest, including paying for the film. In line with a trend in China where people are opting to not leave the house, instead getting unlikely services, like hotpot, personal chefs, and even cocktails, delivered to them, IMAX is translating “standing in line for a box office debut” into an experience for the home. Owners of the luxury entertainment system will be able to see movies that come to China from the comforts of their living room as soon as they hit theaters. One would think that would take away some of the traditional thrills of going to the movies, but Chief Business Development Officer of IMAX Robert Lister told China Daily that he's sure that the super-rich who can afford to invest in their home theater will not be the same people who stand in line at a local theater.

    For those who can't spare the cost of well over 25,000 trips to the movies to catch a large-scale flick in their own living room, IMAX is widespread across China, with 252 screens spanning first-, second- and third-tier cities. They have plans to build 217 more, meaning China would overtake the United States in the number of screens within the next two years. The last few years have seen companies like Dalian Wanda Group, who bought AMC in 2012, getting in on the market potential for the Chinese film industry with its ever-expanding Wanda Cinemas.

    Still, IMAX has had to deal with some sticky situations in China's cinema market, including knockoffs of its screens. Last year, it claimed former software engineer Gary Tsui “stole trade secrets” to create a cheaper 3D screen that eventually served as an exclusive 3D debut for Sony and MGM's RoboCop in China (IMAX showed the film on its 2D screens in the United States). That is tacked onto the fact that Hollywood continuously jumps through hoops in its negotiations with China, most notably including censorship and piracy.

    Then there is still the issue of how to keep Chinese audiences' attention when it comes to films. At the Asia Society U.S.-China Film Summit in Los Angeles last year, film buffs and industry experts discussed what Chinese filmgoers wanted most, which included big-budget Hollywood flicks and comedy. This year's summit is on November 5, so only time will tell what it may reveal about what the future holds for those proud owners of high-end IMAX home theaters.

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