Most of us have been living on a steady diet of Netflix for a while now, but those jonesing for a trip to the flicks will be waiting probably until mid-July at the earliest. So says IMAX (IMAX Stock Quote, Chart, News NYSE:IMAX) CEO Richard Gelfond, who thinks we can look to China’s rebound to gauge when ‘back-to-normal’ will be returning to a theatre near you.
This summer’s blockbusters are all on pause at the moment with titles like Wonder Woman 1984 and Top Gun: Maverick waiting in the wings until the COVID-19 curve gets flattened across the US and Canada and destinations like restaurants and movie theatres reopen.
And IMAX has a big role to play in the release dates of a number of big name productions as many were at least partially shot with IMAX technology, leaving Gelfond as a key character in a waiting game with an unclear endpoint.
“Ultimately the conclusion one has to draw is that no one really knows,” Gelfond said to CNBC on Monday.
“I’m in a position of talking a lot to the studios and the exhibitors in Asia and Europe and the US to be in a decent position to make a guess, but the deeper you dig the less confident you are.”
“I think in China the theatres are likely most of them to open in June. What’s going on there is the schools are just beginning to open in China next week, mostly the seniors and the high schools. After that they’re talking about the junior high schools and the elementary schools,” Gelfond said.
“So I think you’ll see a beginning of the opening [of theatres in China] in May but most of them opening in June,” he said.
“In North America, it’s even harder because we’re six weeks behind China, but I think most of the studios that are dating their movies, and most of the exhibitors, all of whom I talk to on almost a daily basis, are thinking probably July, maybe if they’re lucky late June, with things coming back to normal in mid to late July and August,” Gelfond said.
IMAX’s share price has been on a downward trend for a good half-decade as cinema companies continue to take hits from the rise in streaming content providers like Netflix and Disney, pulling people away from theatres in greater and greater numbers.
IMAX was already down 17 per cent for 2020 when the markets started tanking in late February. For the past five years, the stock is down almost 70 per cent.
The same has been the case for Canadian theatre company Cineplex, which was set to be sold to global chain Cineworld before the disaster of COVID-19 emptied cinemas worldwide and put the future of both companies in doubt.
IMAX last released its quarterly numbers on February 19, where the company posted fourth quarter earnings of $0.35 per share on revenues of $124.3 million. Analysts had been expecting EPS of $0.31 per share and revenues of $117.5 million. (All figures in US dollars.)