Future of Euro d-cinema hinges on 3-D

Economics a hurdle, but exhibitors fueling interest

AMSTERDAM -- Digital cinema growth remains slow in Europe, although the promise of 3-D and assists from government subsidies might quicken its pace.

"Financially, digital cinema is not compelling enough, and it's not inclusive enough, for everybody," said David Monk, CEO of the European Digital Cinema Forum, which held an open meeting Tuesday at the International Broadcasting Convention. "That is thrown in with the current financial meltdown. Everyone is having much more trouble getting capital investments, so any new investment is under double scrutiny."

Even before the latest economic downturn, Monk said, d-cinema was already "a struggle for most operators in Europe. They have to make significant changes to their operations, they have costs that they have to fund themselves. They probably need higher virtual print fees to be able to make the financial proposition more compelling."

A number of the speakers noted that what d-cinema movement is taking place is in large part because of exhibitors' interest in 3-D.

Throughout this week's IBC, there was a growing consensus that stereoscopic 3-D is not a fad but an emerging reality that could become widespread. IBC became the first major confab to feature a sizable number of working products from a growing number of manufacturers, in areas including production, postproduction, broadcasting, Blu-ray Disc and video wall displays.

"Exhibitors want to be able to deliver 3-D movies," Monk said. "But it's not going to be sufficient in its own right, although it certainly helps the cause of resolving d-cinema. One of the things we are considering within EDCF is how well the proposition will serve the smaller operators that use more independent film content. That proposition doesn't work as effectively for them."

Different countries are adopting deployment plans. They include ventures that rely on private funding and some that will receive government contributions.

Arts Alliance Media, a London-based digital distributor, and XDC, a digital distribution company based in Liege, Belgium, have announced high-profile deployment programs that include virtual print fee agreements.

Ymagis, a fledgling independent deployment agency in France, has secured VPF agreements with Disney, Fox and Paramount and is working on others. The company signed its first deployment deal in June and since then has commitments for 11 screens in France, eight of which are deployed.

In another strategy, Peter Dinges, CEO of the German Federal Film Board, outlined a proposal that would allow for the transition of Germany's 3,700 screens to digital. Essentially, exhibitors would be responsible for 13% of the funding, while distribution would handle 40% and third parties -- including government subsidies -- would cover the remaining 47% of the costs.

IBC wrapped up on a damp afternoon as conference organizers reported record attendance of nearly 48,000 and beer and champagne flowed in the exhibition halls and conference areas.

Three technical developments emerged as standouts: 3-D; NHK's Super Hi-Vision system, which boasts 8K resolution -- 16 times that of today's HDTV -- and could start rolling out in homes in a decade; and DVB-T2, a digital terrestrial TV transmission system expected to be adopted in many countries.