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Imax CEO Rich Gelfond chats acquisitions

Photo illustration of Rich Gelfond and a movie theater.

Photo illustration Axios Visuals. Photo: Imax Corporation

Imax is betting on a future where it's less reliant on the box office and more focused on the living room, CEO Rich Gelfond tells Axios.

Why it matters: The theatrical business is facing an existential crisis amid the rise of streaming services, where moviegoing will probably never be the same as it was pre-pandemic.

The latest: Imax's recent acquisition of tech firm Ssimwave, whose clients include Disney, Paramount and Warner Bros. Discovery, puts it right in the middle of the streaming ecosystem.

  • While the first move will be to grow the Canada-based company's presence outside the U.S., Gelfond said acquiring Ssimwave's people is what drove the deal.

The big picture: Imax, best known for its giant-screen projection technology and cameras, is trying to become a player in the home entertainment market.

  • Last year, Imax worked with Disney+ to offer most of its Marvel films in Imax Enhanced format, a version of its big screen tech adapted for home viewing.
  • "My ultimate dream has been, particularly in the home, to make a lot of better images and create higher quality using software," Gelfond says. "And if you want to dream, like, really big, eventually develop a chip that goes into TV sets — or maybe a software — and it uprises everything at an affordable cost."

By the numbers: Moviegoing has rebounded, but attendance remains weak compared to pre-pandemic numbers.

  • Compared to the same period in 2019, year-to-date U.S. box office revenues fell 34% to $6.1 billion, according to Box Office Mojo.
  • "I think [the] pandemic, if it taught us one thing, was we need to diversify as far as the content," Gelfond says. "So in the quarter that just closed, 20-30% of our box office was with foreign language."
  • Imax has also expanded outside of showing movies by livestreaming concerts and industry events such as Q&As with directors like Steven Spielberg.

What's next: The media's fascination with the metaverse has led Imax to dip its toe back into virtual reality.

  • "We're about to sign on with a fairly significant client for how to integrate in VR," he says.
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