'U2 3D' hopes to ride wave

Digital screens key to film's rollout

The 3-D concert feature "U2 3D" opened in limited release Wednesday on 60 film-based Imax screens in North America.

Meanwhile, the activity surrounding the digital release of this 3-D feature and others signals growing interest in the format but also underscores a concern in the distribution market that scheduling has to be handled with care because of the currently limited number of 3-D-ready digital screens. Estimates suggest that the number of 3-D-ready digital screens in North America is currently around 1,000; these screens of course are also 2-D-capable and are therefore also used to show non-3-D features.

"U2 3D" is scheduled to go wider and have its digital 3-D opening Feb. 15 on an anticipated 500-600 digital screens.

This would follow the digital 3-D release of "Hannah Montana/Miley Cyrus Best of Both Worlds Concert Tour," which will open Feb. 1 for a one-week limited engagement. "Hannah Montana" is currently expected to open on roughly 680 screens in North America but might reach 700 by the release date.

On Feb. 15, "U2 3D" would then have the lion's share of the 3-D digital screens in North America.

As for the release strategy for "U2 3D," distributor National Geographic Cinema Ventures Distribution president Mark Katz said it was decided that the film would start with a limited run, expand and possibly have a long release. "Certainly, a number of Imax theaters we booked for a long run of four to five months, while other (schedules) are more traditional," he said. "We anticipate return engagements, and we are not going to limit the length of the run. The business it does will determine length of run."

It appears that the digital theaters could take advantage of that opportunity. Summit Entertainment's animated 3-D feature "Fly Me to the Moon," which had originally been slated to open Feb. 15, moved to an Aug. 22 release date, in part to take advantage of the growing number of 3-D systems being installed in theaters and to have an open 3-D window. This means that after "U2 3D," the next scheduled digital 3-D opening is "Journey 3-D," which opens July 18.

About 4,000 3-D-ready digital cinema screens are expected to be ready in North America by May 2009 for the growing number of digital 3-D features.
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