Warners inks digital screens deal

Cinedigm has new funding pact with last major studio holdout

ORLANDO -- Everybody's finally on board.

Cinedigm Digital Cinema is set to announce Monday that Warner Bros. has inked a virtual print fee deal stipulating how the studio will help fund digital screen installations nationwide.

Warners is the last major distributor to pact with Cinedigm, a d-cinema integrator for circuits smaller than the U.S. big three.

Regal, AMC and Cinemark -- the nation's three biggest exhibition companies -- have VPF agreements with the major studios through another d-cinema integrator, Digital Cinema Implementation Partners.

Cinedigm still is seeking the kind of broad bank-community backing that DCIP has secured via a J.P. Morgan-led syndication. But with the protracted credit crunch finally easing, Cinedigm execs are confident that now-complete Hollywood support will attract bank interest.

Lenders' backing is needed to cover hefty upfront costs of the industry's much ballyhooed -- and recently stalled -- digital conversion. Studios will help repay such bank loans by contributing the equivalent of what they would previously have paid for film prints for several years after screens are converted to digital.

Cinedigm hopes install digital systems covering up to 10,000 movies screens in a second phase of its operations. A first phase of Cinedigm screen conversions implemented digital projection in more than 3,700 auditoriums.

"Cinedigm's success with its Phase One wide-scale deployment is unparalleled," Warners domestic distribution president Dan Fellman said. "Warner Bros. is proud to be Cinedigm's partner in their Phase Two program bringing more high-quality digital movies to theaters and their patrons across the U.S. and Canada."

Cinedigm chief Bud Mayor hailed Warners as a "strong proponent of the transition" to digital cinema.

"Their valued partnership is a keystone to helping us move ahead," Cinedigm president Chuck Goldwater added.

D-cinema and a related 3D digital rollout should figure prominently in presentations ShowEast, an annual exhibition confab that gets under way here Monday at the Orlando Marriott World Center.