IMAX (NYSE:IMAX) isn't an easy business to own. Growth comes in fits and starts as filmmakers fall in and out of love with the format, which is problematic because the company depends on a steady stream of optimized films to fuel profits.
Or at least that's the way it had been. On Jan. 29, IMAX begins screening remastered versions of the final two episodes of last season's Game of Thrones in advance of showing a Season 5 trailer shot in IMAX.
Whether that translates into a bigger deal to shoot new seasons of the epic television series in IMAX remains to be seen, but with more epic television than ever, it's looking as though the big screen specialist may have a future on the small screen.
Bigger budgets in TV land
Fat production budgets for big-screen caliber TV would be the catalyst. Look no further than Game of Thrones, which costs an estimated $6 million per episode to produce, according to TVCheatSheet.com. There's also Netflix's (NASDAQ:NFLX) $100 million bet on two seasons of House of Cards, which amounts to $3.8 million per episode, while AMC Networks (NASDAQ:AMCX) spends a reported $2.8 million per episode for The Walking Dead. Epic TV is on the rise.
We're also getting more of it. According to FlimLA (via Deadline), Hollywood-sourced TV production rose 12% last year. Dramas took most of the gains, netting a 28.6% increase and 3,666 "shoot days" for filming episodes in the Los Angeles area.
How can IMAX cash in on the rush? Conversion for special screenings is a short-term option. But over the long term, executives are going to want showrunners adopting IMAX cameras for shooting episodes, specials, or even entire seasons in the format. That won't be an easy sell.
The end of television as we've known it?
Why? There's no such thing as a television that delivers an IMAX experience. Not yet, anyway. Investing in a format that won't reach the majority of the audience makes no sense.
What's needed is a shift in how executives think about producing and distributing television -- a new model that blurs the lines between TV and movies and conforms to the new ways in which we are consuming entertainment.
Return to the Game of Thrones example for a moment. What if, instead of promising a trailer, HBO shot selected portions of the upcoming season in IMAX and then offered tickets to see those episodes at the theater three months after the show runs its course on cable? Strong ticket sales for next week's IMAX event suggests audiences are predisposed to just this sort of event programming.
Or, taking the idea a step further, HBO could partner up with parent Time Warner (NYSE:TWX.DL) for producing a movie-length IMAX special to show in theaters. Game of Thrones creator and author George R.R. Martin has teased as much in press interviews, while Disney is using tie-in television properties such as Agents of SHIELD and Agent Carter to sell Marvel movies.
Call it a game of screens, in which playing gets us into the habit of following shared universes across media. IMAX could help accelerate the shift and boost growth while giving profit-poor cinema operators a much-needed curtain call.