Fithian fires back at Warners

Holds studio partly responsible for d-cinema's slow domestic rollout

Is exhibition or distribution to blame for the slow rollout of digital 3-D cinema?

Addressing today's opening of "Journey to the Center of the Earth," Warner Bros. domestic distribution president Dan Fellman said this week that "3-D is the future, so why is exhibition dragging its feet? I'm pleased 'Journey' will be the biggest digital 3-D release to date. But it is disconcerting that since November, the 3-D screen count has only gone up from 660 (for 'Beowulf') to 854 noncompetitive locations for 'Journey.' "

John Fithian, president of the National Association of Theatre Owners, immediately responded Thursday, saying, "It is particularly ironic and frustrating that a senior executive from Warner Bros. would accuse exhibition of 'dragging its feet' on 3-D when Warners has been the absolutely slowest of all major studios to come to the table with support for the d-cinema rollout. If Warners believes there are an insufficient number of 3-D screens in the marketplace today, they have no one to blame but themselves, and they know it."

Numerous digital-cinema deals remain at an impasse over virtual print fees, under which studios agree to contribute a fee per screen, per movie to offset exhibitors' installation costs.

Digital Cinema Integration Partners — a joint venture owned by AMC, Cinemark and Regal — is negotiating a key VPF deal. Although many expected it to be completed earlier this year, negotiations have dragged on, with Warners one of the studios that has not reached an agreement.

Separately, Access Integrated Technologies — which handles the majority of digital installations in North America — has struck Phase 2 deals with Disney, Fox, Paramount and Universal. Warners and Sony are still in negotiations.

Warners has, however, struck an international deal with deployer XDC in European markets.

"Warner Bros. has released more films digitally than any other studio, without question," Fellman responded. "Our discussion is with exhibition, circuit by circuit, and John has never attended one business session at which any Warner exec was present. … We are continuing to serve every digital theater that requests a (digital) print. We stand by our record." (partialdiff)