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IMAX CEO on partnerships with streamers: ‘Don’t think it’s going to threaten the box office at all’

Richard Gelfond, IMAX CEO, joins Yahoo Finance to discuss the company’s strongest quarter in the pandemic era, partnership with streamers, and AMC’s plans into the crypto space.

Video Transcript

JARED BLIKRE: "Dune" smashed box office records over the weekend as moviegoers flocked back to the silver screen, helping IMAX achieve its biggest global October opening weekend ever. IMAX also just reported its best quarter since the pandemic, pulling in $57 million and narrowing its loss to $8.4 million. Joining us now is Richard Gelfond, IMAX CEO, and Yahoo Finance's Alexandra Canal. Richard, thank you for joining us. Always good to see you here. Let's talk about your earnings report. As I mentioned, good numbers here, even beat the 2019 comps on a few levels, but still a loss. When are you seeing the path to profitability emerging here?

RICHARD GELFOND: Well, I think we're in the middle of the path to profitability right now. Although October is still going on, we already set a record for box office in October. Our record previously was 84 million. We just crossed 100 million. And with another weekend of "Dune," as you said in the lead-in, which is killing it, you know, I think we'll be 115, maybe a little bit more. When you look at the slate going forward for the rest of the quarter, we've got "Eternals" opening the weekend after this one. You've got "Ghostbusters," "Spider-Man," "Matrix." 2022 looks really good So I think we've crossed the point of no return, and we're on our way.

ALEXANDRA CANAL: Richard, on the earnings call, you said that IMAX is in productive conversations with the leading global streaming platforms. Talk to me a little bit about where you see opportunities to collaborate with streamers, as well as the future of IMAX Enhanced, which would bring that IMAX experience into consumers' homes.

RICHARD GELFOND: Yeah, so IMAX Enhanced is the product that we're talking to streamers and others about. And the way it works is when you watch something after its theatrical run in the home on your large television, obviously, the larger the television, the more resolution you lose. So IMAX Enhanced is a product that gets embedded in televisions. It helps the image look much better in the home. And it also has the IMAX aspect ratio, which is more vertical than the letterbox typically.

So we have a big deal with Sony where we actually have repurposed a lot of their content. And we have-- we're on Sony's large screen televisions in the home. So we're in discussions also with a number of streamers, where what they would do is stream their content, where if you had an IMAX enhanced television, again, the image would look much better than it does currently in the home.

So the idea is not to replace anything in the theater. You go to the theater, you see a great movie. It looks fantastic in IMAX. You get home, you want to see it in IMAX. Maybe you want to watch it many times. You want to own it. So IMAX Enhanced enables you to do that. It also saves some money in terms of the optimization in streaming. So I think there might be several things in there for the streamers. And we've been having discussions for a fair amount of time now.

ALEXANDRA CANAL: And Richard, I think a lot of analysts credit the IMAX experience for why you guys are outpacing competitors. But if you continue to partner with streamers, if you continue to lean on IMAX Enhanced, do you think that could threaten the box office and going back to physical theater chains? And if so, is that something you're OK with moving forward?

RICHARD GELFOND: No, I don't think it's going to threaten the box office at all. I mean, unless you're the sultan of Brunei, your screen in your house is not going to look like the 69th Street on Broadway IMAX theater. IMAX provides a unique out-of-home experience, which is incredible. And as you mentioned, "Dune" this weekend.

I mean, we did 20% of the world on "Dune" in way less than 1% of the screens. We put forward a filmmaker's vision. It's the way Denis Villeneuve, who directed "Dune," wanted it to be seen. Our in-home product is just-- it's already had its theatrical run. You want to watch it in the best way possible in your home. You go watch it that way. But in no way is it comparable to the IMAX theatrical experience.

JARED BLIKRE: Yeah, I got to follow up on that sultan of Brunei comment that you made, even if it was just tongue in cheek there. Your business model is such that-- correct me if I'm wrong-- you license your film and your technologies. You don't own the theaters. But I'm wondering, do you do any home consultations for very wealthy clients, such as the sultan of Brunei?

RICHARD GELFOND: We had a period of time where we did that, but we don't currently do that anymore. And the enhanced product is our way of getting as high end an image in the home as you can get. But I just want to reiterate, no matter how high end it is, it's nothing like what you get at an IMAX theater. It's just a way for us to take our incredible worldwide brand and our fans and our audience and follow them when they want to see it again in the comfort of their home.

ALEXANDRA CANAL: And Richard, AMC CEO Adam Aron said that the chain is, quote, "getting hyperactive in cryptocurrency," and it could even create their own crypto down the line. AMC is a partner of yours, as you referred to them in the past. Is this something you could see IMAX doing and possibly getting into?

RICHARD GELFOND: We're embedded in other people's multiplexes. So we're a technology provider. We don't have standalone theaters. So if our partners want to do it, you know, that's their business. And that's fine. And I've said to Adam, you know, he could take all the crypto he wants, but I want to convert it back into dollars when he has to pay us or whatever it is. But sure, whoever wants to do it in the world, that's kind of their business. And if their fans want it, like AMCs apparently do, that's great, but that's not our business.

JARED BLIKRE: Yeah, so no IMAX token just yet. Richard Gelfond, always great to see you here. IMAX CEO. Also thank you, Allie Canal.