Three-way special d-livery

WB, Uni, exhibs in distrib'n study

In an effort to solve the content delivery issue plaguing digital cinema, Warner Bros. Pictures, Universal Pictures and Digital Cinema Implementation Partners said Sunday that they will form a joint venture to investigate the best delivery techniques for digital files.

The cost of the joint venture has not been disclosed, though each of the parties will fund the initial exploratory stage. If the process goes as planned, the parties would enter phase two, which would involve funding the capital needed to implement digital delivery.

"Utilizing digital distribution technologies to support digital cinema seems like a natural progression and complementary to the rollout of projection systems that is currently taking place," said Darcy Antonellis, Warners executive vp distribution and technology operations. "We're excited by the opportunities we will have to identify and develop the most effective, cost-efficient means for delivery of our films."

Initially, Universal and Warners are the only distribution partners in the deal, though other studios have expressed interest; the joint venture steered away from involving all studios because of concerns about violating antitrust regulations. Also, the parties involved are clear that they intend for their findings to be open to all possible users, including other exhibition chains and service vendors.

"Scale is what's going to drive down the costs when it comes to electronic delivery," DCIP CEO Travis Reid said. "Our goal is very simple: to create something efficient in the cheapest possible way."

DCIP, the digital cinema spinoff of Regal Entertainment Group, AMC Entertainment and Cinemark's National Cinemedia subsidiary, is in the process of putting together its own conversion to digital cinema. The company is working with studios, technology vendors and other circuits to put together a rollout of its own, and news of its progress is expected soon.

Under the current theatrical distribution system, individual prints of each movie are physically shipped to theaters, either in cans or, in the case of digital cinema, individual hard drives. The joint venture will look at all new digital methods of direct delivery, including satellite and broadband. The parties hope that by streamlining distribution, they will be able to eliminate the security breaches that lead to piracy.

"A scalable, cost-effective solution for delivering content to theaters is at the heart of fulfilling the promise (of digital cinema)," said Michael Joe, executive vp at Universal Pictures. "We're looking forward to being a part of this exploration."

20th Century Fox, though not being a participant in the joint venture, is supporting the effort.

"This venture is aimed at transforming the medium and providing new, enhanced experiences for consumers via a robust and cost-effective digital distribution system," said Julian Levin, executive vp digital cinema at 20th Century Fox. "We look forward to analyzing the options that this venture will identify that will support Fox's d-cinema strategy."