ShowEast puts spotlight on 3-D, d-cinema

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The film industry is donning 3-D glasses this week as exhibitors and distributors gather at the Orlando Marriott World Center for ShowEast 2007.

The digital cinema transition and 3-D movements are hot topics this week, as the two are intertwined: digital-cinema projection is required in order to offer 3-D digital motion pictures, giving digital cinema some added momentum as both proceed forward.

"The first thing that has come along and actually created an incremental value for exhibition is 3-D," DreamWorks Animation CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg told The Hollywood Reporter. Katzenberg will speak about 3-D at the convention, which runs today through Thursday. "(Exhibitors) are beginning to see a real growth opportunity in their business. I think that's part of what has given some real momentum to digital cinema."

Indeed, 3-D has energized the exhibition industry. For instance, last year's release of "Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas 3-D" played in 168 theaters and grossed $8.7 million.

Meanwhile, additional factors are contributing to digital-cinema deployment.

"As more and more 3-D content comes into the market, it will spur the digital-cinema deployment," said Chuck Viane, Disney's president of domestic distribution. "I believe the key factor to the digital deployment will probably be the announcement of Digital Cinema Integration Partners and whatever program they will have for digital installations in circuits like Regal and Cinemark and AMC."

DCIP is a joint venture owned by AMC Entertainment, Cinemark USA and Regal Entertainment Group that represents more than 14,000 screens in the U.S. and Canada. It is working on deals with the aim of beginning to transition its screens in early 2008. "Exhibitors are more likely to do a digital install right now for movies like 'Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas' or 'Beowulf' or any of the other announced product because they can have these blend into the deals that will be brought into the marketplace by DCIP," Viane explained.

With "Nightmare" and "Beowulf" slated for release this fall, it is expected that there will be roughly 1,000 3-D-ready digital theaters and a total of 4,000 digital cinema screens, representing 10% of the domestic market by year's end. "By the end of next year, I would think you will be at 25%," Viane said. "I think DCIP will really determine how quickly the tipping point comes. But the end of next year we could be at 60%. That would not shock me at all."

Katzenberg's benchmark is the March 27, 2009, the release date for "Monsters vs. Aliens," DreamWorks Animation's first 3-D feature. "We need 6,000 (3-D-equipped) screens by March 27, 2009," he said. "That's the thing that I am most anxious about. It's a tremendous opportunity for exhibitors. Exhibition will be able to get a meaningful premium for their 3-D experience. When we release one of our PG titles, we are in the 7,500-8,000 screen range. I'd like to see three-quarters of those be equipped with 3-D by 2009."

For studios investing in 3-D content, costs can vary. Katzenberg related that for DreamWorks Animation — which has committed to release all of its animated product in 3-D beginning in 2009 — there is a $15 million incremental production cost per movie.

Said John Fithian, president of the National Association of Theatre Owners, "I believe we win by having both digital cinema and 3-D. Digital cinema has to make sense in its own right, and it does, particularly with the studio-supported virtual print fee model. … Hopefully, we can get a better show that is more consistent. Digital cinema also offers greater versatility of programming. 3-D is a very important value add, but it also has another cost. The studios are not paying for the 3-D installations. We are in most cases."

"The primary reason why digital cinema is picking up, at least in the States, is threefold: We have business models that work, technology standards that are fairly developed and equipment that produces a quality image. Those were the three main hurdles as to why this didn't happen earlier," Fithian said.
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