Cineworld invests in digital screens

$5.6 mil to create largest 3-D estate in U.K.

LONDON -- U.K. theater chain Cineworld, listed on the stock exchange here, said Monday that it will pump more than 4 million pounds ($5.6 million) into doubling its digital screens in the U.K. and Ireland.

The theater chain said it has sealed a deal with digital provider NEC for 74 digital projects and aims to have 148 digital screens fitted and operational by April this year.

Cineworld sale the deal will create the largest 3-D estate of any cinema chain in the U.K.

Cineworld will use technology from RealD in 144 of its digital screens, allowing it to show 3-D movies to 40,000 customers at any one time.

During 2009, 13 movies are scheduled for release in 3-D format including Walt Disney's "Bolt" and "Toy Story 3D"; DreamWorks Animation's "Monsters Vs Aliens," a Paramount Pictures International release; and 20th Century Fox's "Ice Age 3: Dawn of the Dinosaurs."

Cineworld CEO Steve Wiener said the move is due to the increasing number of releases in that format.

"The timing of this deal enables us to take full advantage of the busy 3-D film slate this year, and I am pleased that Cineworld will be able to provide this latest technological advance to more of its customers," Wiener said.

Cineworld is the second-largest exhibition chain with 75 sites and 775 screens.

The exhibitor said the next stage of its rollout of digital screens "will start once agreement is reached with the film studios on the financial terms of such a move."