Which Cinema Stock Will Give You Max Returns?

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Going to see a movie used to be a good evening out with the family or a date, but now, people seem to be spending more time at home enjoying their personal entertainment systems. Since peaking in 2002, domestic theater attendance has dropped from 1.58 billion tickets sold to a projected 1.27 billion tickets to be sold in 2013. With Americans staying in to watch TV, what can movie theaters do to draw them away from their plasma screens and buy a ticket to see the silver screen?

Theaters on the ropes

Three of the largest American theater companies are Regal Entertainment Group (NYSE: RGC), Cinemark Holdings (NYSE: CNK), and Carmike Cinemas (NASDAQ: CKEC). All of them have witnessed growth and attendance issues during 2013.

Last quarter, Regal experienced an 8% attendance drop which led to a quarterly revenue of $642.8 million. This is a 9.5% decrease from the same quarter of 2012. The company has primarily expanded through strategic acquisitions. The most recent acquisition was of Great Escape Theaters, which grew Regal by 25 theaters and 301 screens. The company also has 115 premium theaters that offer patrons larger screens, nicer seats, and better sound for a few extra dollars.

Cinemark saw U.S. admission revenue decline 12%, leading to a quarterly revenue decline of 6.5% to $547.8 million. The company boasts 3D capability on 51% of all domestic screens and has been utilizing its mobile app for marketing purposes in an attempt to boost attendance.

But, these actions don’t seem to be enough to draw patrons to theaters. While the U.S. is slowing, Cinemark is finding some success overseas. The company saw international revenue increase 8.5% to $184.2 million. The international success is still only a small silver lining on a rough quarter for the theater company.

Carmike is the smallest of the theaters listed and was the only one to post revenue growth in the last quarter. This small growth of 0.10% comes after an attendance drop of 4.60% to 11.6 million patrons. The company is looking for acquisitions to grow towards a goal of 300 theaters and 3,000 screens. Carmike also has the Ovation Dining Club, which offers an upscale dining experience to accompany a movie.

All of the theater companies are coming up with ideas to draw patrons, but there is one company that offers consumers an experience that is impossible to get at home.

Bigger is better

IMAX (NYSE: IMAX) offers patrons a unique movie going experience by showing movies on massive screens. According to CEO Richard Gelfond, IMAX stands alone because, “IMAX is the only end-to-end premium entertainment solution in cinema, starting from collaborating with the filmmakers during the design of the film, right through to the point of presentation, customize equipment, and ongoing quality and service.” IMAX supplies filmmakers with IMAX cameras that deliver unique aspect ratios that make the film fit perfectly on an IMAX screen. These cameras were recently used to shoot films such as Star Trek: Into Darkness and Man of Steel.

It is the IMAX experience that can draw consumers away from their home entertainment systems. Regal, Cinemark, and Carmike all boast IMAX auditoriums and have identified them as a valuable source of revenue. All three theater companies have also developed their own brand of big-screen theaters. Regal has RPX, Cinemark has XD, and Carmike has Big D. While these screens are not as big as a true IMAX screen, they offer consumers a cheaper premium theater experience.

As a company, IMAX has focused on three priorities, penetration, differentiation, and scale. The company is pursuing international penetration in Australia, Turkey, Indonesia, Chile, Russia, Italy, and Canada having recently signed deals to open 25 theaters in these countries. China also plays an important role for IMAX. As the country’s middle class grows, the cinema market expands.

The company is working to get both Hollywood and Chinese films into IMAX theaters in China. It recently had success with Stephen Chow’s Journey to the West, a local language film that grossed more than $7.5 million in IMAX theaters. IMAX continues to improve screens by researching laser technology that allow for greater clarity and contrast, but it is clear that the majority of growth potential lies in the $2.5 billion international market.

With quarterly earnings growth of 14%, a forward P/E ratio of 21.57, and PEG of 0.93, IMAX looks like it could be a promising investment in a slowing cinema market.

Conclusion

With the success of IMAX overseas and dropping domestic theater attendance, international expansion is crucial for cinema companies to grow. Right now, movie theaters are looking for attractions to draw in consumers which can only mean good things for IMAX. IMAX is a well-known brand that is continuously improving the quality of its product. I’d stay away from the theater companies, but think IMAX is a good investment that could bring returns that are as big as its screens.

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Ben Popkin has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Imax. The Motley Fool owns shares of Imax. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy. Is this post wrong? Click here. Think you can do better? Join us and write your own!

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