3D competition heating up in int'l market

Rival 3D system vendors tout wares at Cinema Expo

AMSTERDAM -- It's still game-on when it comes to the competitive fray called 3D cinema.

RealD is the dominant 3D systems vendor in the U.S., but abroad there continues to be a stiff competitive challenge in the 3D marketplace from rival vendors MasterImage, XpanD and Dolby, among others.

Meantime, though RealD's early market entry helped it gain a market share lead, its earliest contracts with RealD customers soon will begin to expire, and some suggest that could see the company loosen deal terms to coax exhibs to re-up for a new leases.

Using Cinema Expo as a platform to promote its regional efforts, MasterImage -- which in contrast to RealD sells most systems rather than leasing them -- has been touting an ongoing relationship with 317-screen European circuit Kineopolis. The theater chain, which offers MasterImage 3D in roughly a third of its auditoriums, this week reiterated its commitment to the format without specifying new orders.

RealD, Dolby and MasterImage partnered with various distributors at studio screenings to promote their eyeware at the confab. Exhibs, though dazed and confused by the array of system choices, clearly are interested in tapping into the boxoffice bonanza of 3D ticket "upcharges."

In a 3D seminar at the exhibition confab on Thursday, XpanD CEO Maria Costeira suggested an investment in 3D equipment is actually a means of paying for digital projection systems.

"We expect the 3D ticket premiums to pay for the digital installations," Costeira said.

Ticket premiums for 3D might start to disappear within five years, but by then "the rest of the prices will rise to the level of 3D," she predicted.

"It's the commercial law of the market -- prices do not go down," the XpanD chief shrugged.

"We're relatively confident we can sustain the premium ticket pricing," said panelist Gerald Buckle of Odeon/UCI.

Elsewhere at Cinema Expo on Thursday, the final day for this year's confab at the RAI convention center here, boxoffice tracker Rentrak presented an award to Fox for distributing the region's top-grossing film during the first four months of 2010 -- 3D phenom "Avatar." James Cameron's scifi epic totes a $1.1 billion European cume and $2.75 billion in worldwide coin.

Pathe Theatres managing director Lauge Nielsen accepted an award for the Netherlands circuit's being named Cinema Expo's international exhibitor of the year.

ShoWest managing director Robert Sunshine announced at the luncheon that Cinema Expo is discussing a move to another European city for next year's show and promised more details within 30 days.
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