Watch the full NAB Show session above.
- The “IMAX Beyond the Big Screen” panel at NAB Show 2023 discussed how IMAX is bringing content to the home screen and how content owners and streaming services are creating high quality, engaging video experience.
- Explains ambition to deliver top-tier content at a premium to consumers and teases idea of an IMAX-branded sports streaming service.
- Talks about how new acquisition SIMWAVE will help the company optimize its IMAX Enhanced content to consumer devices, but that it will not dilute the quality of experience just to achieve bitrate savings.
In IMAX’s first-ever official appearance at NAB Show, the company explained how it aimed to take its premium brand of giant screen content into the home.
IMAX’s presence was led by Vikram Arumilli, SVP and GM of Streaming and Consumer Technology.
In the “IMAX Beyond The Big screen” panel, Arumilli explained that IMAX worked with device manufacturers including LG, TCL, Hisense, Philips and Sony to ensure that titles badged as IMAX Enhanced are shown on the highest premium tier of devices.
“All of these devices have very stringent technical specifications that they have to hit. These include TVs, home projectors and sound soundbars speakers. On the content side, we deliver IMAX Enhanced versions of titles to our streaming partners including to Sony’s Bravia TVs and Disney+”
IMAX has around 700 titles available as part of its Enhanced offer.
“First and foremost, IMAX’s bread and butter is still in theatrical and the IMAX Enhanced titles that are coming to market are primarily titles that have gone through our theatrical footprint first and then on a streaming service.”
He said, “IMAX is where it is today is because we’ve really focused on delivering to filmmakers that ability to have their creative intent seen by consumers in the highest level. And that’s what we want to do in the home as well. That ties into why we made this acquisition in SSIMWAVE. It’s all about maintaining that creator intent, whether it’s theatrically or in the home or on your personal device.”
IMAX acquired Canadian company SSIMWAVE for $25 million last year. Its products include technology that optimizes ‘bandwidth spend’ and so enable service providers to deliver content at quality in the most efficient way.
“The goal of IMAX Enhanced is to drive a premium experience for streaming in the home. There’s a clear synergy between what SIMwave is doing around optimizing quality of streaming content and what we’re trying to do with Enhanced.”
Also on the panel was Bill Baggelaar, EVP and CTO at Sony Pictures Entertainment, who said, “The hardest part is ensuring that we are providing the consumer the right quality. This is where SSIMWAVE is an interesting technology that can really help the industry to better understand what’s actually getting to the consumer. We can see…how close we are getting to that experience that we are trying to really offer.”
Arumilli pointed to “bandwidth constrained” markets like India as a potential opportunity for the service. “Given that subscriber spend is pretty low, there’s a real opportunity there to allow these services to continue to deliver that really premium experience, but do so in a way that is financially responsible for them and allows them to scale their businesses in a profitable way,” he said.
He claimed that IMAX Enhanced was already driving engagement and retention for service providers but was not yet in a position to charge consumers more for specific IMAX Enhanced content.
“We’d love to be in a position where IMAX Enhanced is part of a premium tier, but those are discussions that are much more long term. You could see that — with what HBO Max is doing by offering a $20 tier with access to higher quality content, that’s somewhere where we want to play eventually.”
He also aired the possibility of a IMAX branded sports streaming service. “When you look at a lot of the feedback around live sports today there’s always complaints about video issues, audio issues, buffering issues, just general quality issues. We want to figure out how to solve those issues and make the experience for consumers more of that IMAX experience.
“We don’t have a clear, clear answer there yet, which is why I can’t get into more detail. But it’s something that we think there’s an opportunity. There’s a big market sports content in the US and in countries like India which is the home of IPL Cricket.”
The conundrum is how IMAX gets its service to the mass market versus keeping it high quality by potentially trading off lower bit rates in exchange for wider device distribution.
Arumilli stressed that his company won’t water down the IMAX streamed experience.
“IMAX has always stood for premium quality. Even looking back at how we build our theaters, each one is built to spec. There’s no plug and play IMAX theater that you drop into a multiplex. It’s all about looking at the architecture of the theater, building it to spec,” he said.
“We don’t claim and we never will claim that the IMAX Enhanced experience is similar to what you get in our theaters. That’s a completely separate experience. What we’re trying to do is figure out how you bring the best out of what we do theatrically into the home, how do you best replicate that, even though you’ll never hit that bar.”
He added, “We’re not going to have the IMAX enhanced brand on every $250 TV in Walmart because if we do that, then you lose what we what we mean to consumers, you lose what we mean to creators and you lose what IMAX stands for. So for us, that’s a pretty clear line that we won’t cross.”