Chinese jumbo-screen maker takes on Imax

Armed with a business model that lets cinema operators retain a bigger share of ticket sales, China Giant Screen aims to expand domestically and globally

SHANGHAI • Watch out, a fight of jumbo-sized proportions is on the cards in Chinese cinemas.

The country's state-backed provider of jumbo-screen cinemas wants to become the top brand in a market dominated by Canada-based Imax.

It hopes to score a knockout by expanding with a business model that lets theatre operators retain a bigger share of ticket sales.

Mr Lin Minjie, chairman of China Film Digital Giant Screen (Beijing), said: "We have a government mandate to become the largest premium, large-format brand in China's film market and we are confident of achieving that target in 2019. Our top priority is expansion, not profitability."

Cinema operators in China and around the world are adding premium services such as giant screen formats to stem a loss of viewers to digital platforms such as Netflix.

China Giant Screen will have a network of 288 screens in the country at the end of this year, compared with 430 as of June for Imax, which counts the country as its largest market.

China Giant Screen entered the market five years ago while Imax has been in China for more than a decade.

Mr Lin said China Giant Screen has been able to grow its theatre network because it has a flexible business model that offers a more diversified film pipeline. It charges only a flat fee for each installation.

Most Imax screen operators must share ticket revenue with the company. Also, Imax usually has a narrower range of films on offer at theatres than does China Giant Screen.

A representative for Imax in China declined to comment on the competition from China Giant Screen, which is a subsidiary of state-owned China Film Co, importer and distributor of Hollywood films in the country.

China Giant Screen also plans to expand overseas as part of China's broader push to promote its soft power around the world.

It has established footholds outside mainland China, with cinemas in Hong Kong, Las Vegas and Indonesia.

Mr Lin said: "The government also demands that we take the brand global with Chinese films." Cinema operators in Kazakhstan, Russia and South-east Asia have expressed interest in adding China Giant Screen screens and the company is in talks with major theatre operators in North America, he adds.

Imax entered China in 2004 and garnered traction for the brand with the release of Avatar in 2010, which set box-office sales records at the time.

As of the first half of this year, China had more than 46,000 movie theatre screens, the most in the world.

It is also projected to overtake the United States in box-office revenue by 2020, according to estimates by the Chinese government.

This year, Chinese movies took five of the top six spots in the domestic box-office rankings, led by Wolf Warrior 2, which earned a jumbo-sized US$854 million (S$1.14 billion).

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 30, 2017, with the headline 'Chinese jumbo-screen maker takes on Imax'. Print Edition | Subscribe