IMAX CEO Plans to Bring More TV to the Biggest Screens During Slow Film Periods

Richard Gelfond said Marvel/ABC’s “Inhumans” is only the first of several planned projects that will screen TV shows in IMAX theaters

IMAX CEO Richard Gelfond is admittedly reliant on big-budget blockbusters that draw crowds to the company’s immersive mega-screens. But he sees TV as a good source of revenue diversification.

During a session at the Morgan Stanley Technology, Media & Telecom Conference in San Francisco, Gelfond said that IMAX plans to follow “Inhumans,” a Marvel series set to premiere on ABC in late September with its first two episodes playing for a two-week run at IMAX theaters beginning Labor Day, with other offerings to fill parts of the calendar when blockbusters are sparse.

“The important takeaway is this is not a ‘one-off and do this one thing and go back to only showing Hollywood movies.'” Gelfond said. “I think we watch what happened to companies like HBO and Netflix. They distributed Hollywood films, and they created a big enough network where they could use their distribution networks to distribute other things.”

With 1,200 theaters worldwide, Gelfond said IMAX has reached the “critical mass” to take on initiatives like this. However, because IMAX is so reliant on mega-budget blockbusters to drive revenue, the company will only make its screens available to TV projects during times when they are absent from the calendar.

“We’re only going to do this in shoulder periods,” Gelfond said. “If its time for the summer blockbuster or the next Marvel film — we’re not going to do an original content against (May Disney/Marvel movie) ‘Guardians of the Galaxy 2.'”

Gelfond identified the time around the Super Bowl and September as prime shoulder windows for a future TV project. He also said the economics of an “Inhumans”-type deal, which has dual revenue streams coming from box office sales and the parent network, make it “not really a high-risk content play.”

He acknowledged that the TV economics means there’s an up-front investment with profits realized later, but said the structure of “Inhumans” mitigated that in two ways: there’s theatrical revenue from the two-week IMAX run, and ABC has guaranteed carriage early on.

Still, Gelfond said “Inhumans” was a “tens of millions of dollars-type investment” for IMAX.