Imax and GSCA Board Meet

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Originally published in LF Examiner, March 2009.

Imax and GSCA board meet

On Feb. 25, the Giant Screen Cinema Association and Imax Corporation issued a joint communiqué regarding a meeting in Las Vegas earlier in the month between Imax executives and members of the GSCA board. The meeting had been set up to discuss (among other issues) the concerns of GSCA members following the announcement by Imax co-CEO Richard Gelfond last fall that the company would not brand IMAX digital theaters differently from film-based IMAX theaters.

Attending the meeting for Imax were Gelfond, executive vice president Larry O’Reilly, and vice president Therese Andrade (who is also on the GSCA board). From the GSCA board were chair Toby Mensforth (Smithsonian Business Ventures), vice chair Doug King (St. Louis Science Center), Diane Carlson (Pacific Science Center), and Mike Lutz (MacGillivray Freeman Films).

Before the September conference, the GSCA had established Technical and Marketing Task Forces to identify characteristics that differentiate giant-screen theaters from other forms of out-of-home entertainment and establish non-proprietary branding and marketing techniques that can promote those differences to the benefit of all GSCA members. Lutz is chair of the Marketing Task Force, and Carlson and Andrade are members.

The communiqué, which was e-mailed to GSCA members, described nine points that were discussed at the meeting, including:

1.    The term “giant screen” is a brand attribute for 15/70 IMAX theaters, along with other factors.

2.    The GSCA Marketing Task Force is conducting brand research to promote members’ theaters and films. Imax has “tabled” plans for its own brand research until 2010, because of “the cost and current economy.”

3.    GSCA board members and Imax executives will continue to meet at least once a year, before the fall conference.

4.    Imax is working on a policy for distribution of independent films to digital IMAX theaters.

5.    Imax’s “goal is to enable current IMAX theaters to evolve into IMAX digital theaters.”

6.    Dome theaters are considering other digital options, and the company “is very concerned about the quality of digital presentations on IMAX dome theaters to date.”

7.    “Standards for an Immersive Cinema experience were discussed without conclusion.”

8.    Imax discussed its participation in and sponsorship of the GSCA conference, and expressed “frustration” at “not get[ting] the recognition a major sponsor expects.”

9.    Imax expressed concern about the media attending the members’ meetings at the GSCA conference. 

For LF Examiner‘s response to this last point, see here.

The Marketing and Technical Task Forces are expected to present preliminary results of their work addressing these and other points at the GSCA’s Film Expo in Los Angeles this month.

The meeting and the communiqué reflect the tension that has been building between Imax Corporation and many of the 175 film-based IMAX theaters in museum and standalone venues since the company began rolling out its digital projection system to multiplex theaters last summer. The most contentious issue is Imax’s refusal to publicly identify the digital screens as different in any way from the older film-based theaters, which have larger screens and much higher resolution and are therefore much more immersive. Many managers of 15/70 theaters have privately told LF Examiner that they feel the digital theaters are damaging the reputation for high-quality cinema experiences that their film theaters have built for the company over the past 40 years. Sixty-six IMAX digital theaters have been installed to date, and the company expects to install at least 100 in 2009.

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