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Europe Is Half Way to Digital Movie Theater Paradise

Research shows 52% of all screens in movie theaters are now converted; old-school projection is a dying trade.

LONDON – More than half of Europe’s movie screens are digital, but single-screen venues are struggling, according to a report published Wednesday.

Research from the European Audiovisual Observatory and MEDIA Salles shows that about 18,500 digital screens have been installed across Europe by the end of 2011.

That equates to just north of 50 percent of all European screens now equipped to carry digital proejction, a rise of 4 percent from the levels three years ago.

The report notes that the initial phase of “large-scale digital conversion” during 2009 and 2010 was “more or less entirely driven by 3D installations," but in 2011 – for the first time --  the digital revolution was driven by 2D screen installation.

The report suggests that a switch to 2D indicates the digital conversion in Europe is now in a second phase driven by full conversions of larger circuits paid for by virtual print fee plans and public initiatives ranging from leglislation in France to publicly funded conversion rollouts in Norway and the Netherlands.

But the report also highlights the struggles facing small operators.

According to the research, by the end of 2010, just 11 percent of single-screen theaters had installed a digital screen, compared to a whopping 89 percent of multiplexes.

The report also notes that such small cinemas form “a characteristic part of the European cinema landscape, with single-screen cinemas alone accounting for almost 60 percent of all European cinemas.”

That said, the research also notes the single-screen venues are “presumably not vital for overall box-office results” as part of the bigger picture.