Exhibs want digital costs driven down

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LAS VEGAS -- Millard Ochs, president of Warner Bros. International Cinemas, is calling for exhibitors and distributors to work together and approach manufacturers to reduce the cost of digital cinema equipment.

Emphasizing that he doesn't want to pay $85,000 for one digital-cinema screen, Ochs said, "Let's work together; let's resolve this issue."

Ochs, speaking Monday during a digital cinema panel at ShoWest, added that competition is needed to drive down costs and speed up deployment. "If you want digital cinema in three to five years, you have to have a lot more manufacturers producing a lot more projectors," he said.

The clock is ticking on the digital cinema movement, and panelists agreed that the costs of the technology, along with business models, remain key obstacles to the start of a mass deployment. The subject of 3-D also figured prominently in the discussion.

"If it takes more than 10 years to convert, there won't be a cinema business," warned Drew Kaza, executive vp digital development, Odeon/U.K. "We can't be in a bubble about this. The real competition is everything else going on (such as video games and the Web)."

"Exhibitors need a good reason to change to a digital format," said Joe Peixoto, president of worldwide cinema at 3-D provider Real D. "I think this industry has embraced the 3-D movement because it is staying ahead of competing technology in the home.

"Every studio is considering 3-D or is actively producing (for the format)," Peixoto remarked.

Julian Levin, executive vp of digital exhibition at 20th Century Fox, warned, "3-D is going to deliver in the next three or four years. If we don't get the scale, (the movement) will suffer.

"This is not an easy transition," added Levin, who moderated the session. "At the same time, we have prominent filmmakers who said that they will deliver their films in digital cinema and 3-D. I think from an international exhibitor standpoint, it's important for people not to sit back and to make it happen in your territory."

Gwendal Auffret, CEO of Eclair Digital Cinema, admitted that in Europe, the Digital Cinema Initiatives specification "was not welcomed as it should have been. I think everyone in Europe is now convinced it's not if, it's when," he added. "It's getting there; it's going to be sooner than later."
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