Film glut may slow 3D rollout

Titles prove lucrative, but more d-cinema theaters needed

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BUSAN, South Korea -- The pace of digital cinema installation has accelerated this year, but 3D cinema may suffer an exhibition bottleneck as more movies are produced in the new format.

That was one of the messages delivered Saturday by Charlotte Jones, senior cinema analyst at Screen Digest, to a Pusan summit on the future of 3D cinema.

Jones said that 3D films have proved themselves a lucrative market. Already this year they have generated more than $1 billion at the global boxoffice and exhibitors are able to charge premium prices.

Where films are available in traditional 2D and new 3D format, the 3D versions earn on average 60% of the total gross. The difference is even more pronounced on opening weekends, when 3D versions earn an average of three times more than 2D prints and in the case of “My Bloody Valentine” it was six times.

“That 3x revenue share is now coming down towards 2.5x,” Jones said. “The reason is a lack of screens and the way the films are now being squeezed into shorter release windows. That will be exacerbated next year when the flow of movies in 3D rises from an estimated 23 in 2009 to more than 30. The (financial) advantage of 3D is being eroded (by the pace of d-cinema installation).”

Now Technicolor and other manufacturers are experimenting with ways of using film stock to project 3D images, which are currently only available using digital projectors.

Jones predicted that digital cinema building may currently be at a peak. Some 3,000 theaters were equipped with digital equipment in the first seven months of this year and the number that is 3D capable more than doubled in the first half of the year. Nearly half of all new digital screen installations are 3D capable.

“Content is driving the hardware adoption,” Jones said.

A number of uncertainties now threaten to hold back the 3D market. Many exhibitors have put on hold the (full or partial) conversion of their multiplexes from film to digital. And the emergence of high resolution 4K projection equipment has destabilized the market by adding another layer of uncertainty for exhibitors.

Korea currently ranks only seventh in the world by proportion of theaters with digital cinema installation. The Korean Film Council’s deputy director Lee Wang-ho said the total was 364 at the end of June.

KOFIC is now backing moves to increase the country’s ranking in the 3D universe, and the three largest private sector theater owners have set up a joint initiative to develop the business. “The biggest challenge is production,” Lee said. To date only one Korean movie, “Sole Mate,” is heading towards production any time soon.

But another Korean company Stereo Pictures suggested that the way forward could lie with 2D to 3D conversions as is happening with “Titanic.” “Some people think this is an experiment,” said Sung Young-seok, Stereo Pictures’ CEO. “It is not a research project. It is really in use now.”
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