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I was surpised to read this today:

Revenue no longer is popping off the screen for 3-D and IMAX movies at theater exhibitor AMC Entertainment Inc.

The nation’s second-largest movie theater chain on Tuesday reported that third-quarter losses more than doubled, led by investment losses, a continued drop in overall attendance and a decline in average ticket prices. The latter represents a departure from the upward trend of most of the past two years tied to the ticket premium charged for 3-D and IMAX movies.

Overall, Kansas City-based AMC said it lost $72.8 million during the three months that ended Dec. 29, compared with a loss of $32.8 million during the same period a year earlier.

The loss included a $17.8 million impairment charge on the value of AMC’s investment in RealD Inc., a company that makes 3-D projection equipment.

Revenue for the quarter declined 7.6 percent to $557.3 million.

Attendance fell 8.7 percent, and average ticket prices slipped 1.4 percent.

IMAX and AMC are JV partners. This loss of momentum in the premium priced ticket sales is troubling if it continues into this year. So far, sales for the industry for 2012 are up 12% over last year. But the big movies, the ones that make or break a season, are still ahead.

My concern for IMAX is that AMC carries a heavy debt load. Bankruptcy has been rumored over the years and AMC has failed twice at getting an IPO completed. If results were to fall off the table because something like Middle East tension caused people to stay home, AMC might not make it. If AMC went into bankruptcy, the IMAX JV deals might get rewritten -- and not in IMAX's favor. Although AMC is a small piece of the overall pie, it still is part of the IMAX growth story.

Oh, and speaking of JV partners, Regal (#1 in the US) was in bankruptcy in 2001. It still carries a heavy debt load. So, IMAX is dancing with two partners that are swimming at the deep end of the debt pool.

I like the fact that IMAX is picking up one-week runs of big movies. This weekend's Journey 2 should be good for business. Next up, Dr. Seuss, I think will prove to be a difficult ticket to sell. It screams family and women. I think most families are cash strapped (saving for college) so a 2D version at the local theater will win out. And, if I gage men correctly (and being a man myself), this will be a, "No way" date night or husband-wife night out at the movies. So, women alone, may attend. That usually isn't a gigantic market.

Thank goodness that the Doctor is in for only a week. But Disney's John Carter is carrying a lot of negative publicity on its way to the theater. It is schedule to be in for two weeks before Hunger Games, a potentially new franchise movie series, arrives on March 23rd. Unfortunately, it stays for only 1 week before Wrath of the Titans arrives for what might be a three week run. Let's hope IMAX find something else like Titanic 3D to bring in before Titan completes three weeks.

I am very poor at picking the winners. Avatar, Black Knight, and others didn't get on my radar. So, my opinion of this year's summer release schedule is probably not worth reading. Depending on what IMAX gets for June, the prime season looks very good. Dream Works Animation's Madagascar 3 on June 8, Disney's Brave on June 22, and Paramount's GI Joe a week later, look like the only sure things to open big. Let's pray IMAX can line these movies up for June.

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