SHANGHAI Giant movie screen maker Imax Corp expects the number of Imax screens in China to more than double in the next two to three years as disposable incomes rise and more Chinese movies are made for the format, its chief executive said on Wednesday.
Imax, which will have 85 screens in mainland China by the end of 2011, will see that number rise to 200 in two to three years, Chief Executive Officer Richard Gelfond told Reuters.
"China is by far our highest growth market in the world....We could probably support at least 400 theatres in China over five years," Gelfond said, adding that the 400 would be either opened or signed for.
"You have this huge explosion of cinema in China and at the same time the Imax brand is very popular in China and people want to experience the Imax version of the film," he said.
Imax also expects China to contribute 25 percent to total revenue in about three years, Gelfond said.
"It's an affordable luxury item and people have disposable income and want the best," Gelfond said of the Chinese consumer.
Imax said in June it expects to expand its network of theatres at an annual pace of about 30 percent and is bullish on growth prospects in China.
The Canadian big-screen movie company has 560 theatres worldwide operating in 46 countries.
Imax is not ruling out acquisitions in China and will look to partner film studios to market and develop more Chinese films for the Imax format with the potential to export them overseas.
Imax formed a subsidiary, Imax China, in September to better capture the opportunities in the market, Gelfond said.
"One reason we formed Imax China as a separate company is to try and develop more Chinese projects. We are also interested in helping to export Chinese films in Imax to other territories," he added.
The martial arts movie "The Flying Swords of Dragon Gate," which will star Jet Li, will be released mid-December. Gelfond said the film will also be exported to other Asian countries such as Singapore and South Korea.
As China's importance for the business expands, Imax is also planning to do a documentary on China, Gelfond said.
"This market is so important to me that I felt that I really needed to show to my board so they could be more educated to what it (China market) looks like," he said. Gelfond, who comes to China often, is visiting the country with his board of directors.
(Reporting by Melanie Lee; Editing by Jacqueline Wong)