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Digital cinema still a work in progress
Wed Oct 28, 2009 12:44am EDT
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By Carl DiOrio
ORLANDO (Hollywood Reporter) - The movie industry seems almost embarrassed about the prospect of promising too much too soon regarding digital cinema.
A decade into a planned industrywide conversion to digital projection, the effort remains a work in progress, with the protracted credit crunch reducing the rollout of d-cinema hardware to a snail's pace for the past year. That's also hampered the related introduction of 3D projection.
But with the financial community finally beginning to rebound, d-cinema proponents here Tuesday politely asked movie theater owners attending the exhibition industry's annual ShowEast conference to keep the faith.
"The reason you do this is to add to your business," Bud Mayo, CEO of d-cinema integrator Cinedigm, said during a panel discussion. "It's not just to have cool technology up on your screens. We've seen the incremental increase in revenue that 3D allows."
JPMorgan managing director Andy Sriubas said bankers helping integrators and studios to underwrite installation costs also want to see that "exhibition has some skin in the game." In an earlier round of digital installations, studios footed the bill almost 100%.
Exhibitors seem OK with shouldering a modest portion of installation costs. In fact, some self-financed digital conversions as integrators waited out the credit crunch.
"We didn't want to wait," said Henry McCalmont, who converted half of the six screens in his Mountain Home, Ark., multiplex to digital and added 3D capability to some.
Art Gordon of AG Theatres also jumped quickly into digital and 3D for his two theaters in Guam. "I'm a believer," he said with a shrug.
Even bigger exhibitors have continued to convert a select number of screens. But the U.S. big three -- Regal, AMC and Cinemark -- have had to wait for Wall Street support before proceeding with more ambitious rollouts.
"We're really ready to get going," said Travis Reid, CEO of big-three integrator Digital Cinema Implementation Partners.
DCIP and JPMorgan recently went to market with a $525 million loan syndication to fund the rollout of 15,000 screen installations during the next several years.
The bigger circuits already had marked considerable progress before the economic troubles set in. But digital screen counts can be confusing, as estimates by any three industryites are likely to yield at least four numbers.
Consensus estimates put movie-quality installations at roughly 13,000-14,000 screens globally, with 6,500-7,000 auditoriums boasting 3D capability.
In the meantime, with the industry's conversion to digital and 3D projection going so slowly, Technicolor recently came forward with a stopgap proposal: The film lab is pushing a newly developed format for film-based 3D projection. Continued...
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