French Digital Cinema Deployment Extends Further

French digital cinema deployment entity Ymagis has agreed a deal with one of France's leading exhibitors, Sorédic, to digitise all or part of their cinema circuit over the coming months. Sorédic, a regional exhibitor operating mainly in Brittany and the Loire, is separated into two distinct companies: Cinéville is the owner and operator of Sorédic's multiplex sites, and Cinédiffusion is a network of film programming and concessions.

Ymagis has done a deal with Cinéville to convert 103 screens in 13 sites to digital (11 sites and 88 screens from Cinéville itself and two further sites from a joint venture subsidiary Cinécran), an unknown portion of which will be done in the first half of 2009. The remaining screens will be digitised according to the speed at which distributors can provide films in digital format, according to company.

Equipment will be DCI and AFNOR standard, as far as is currently possible, and 3D equipment is also an element of the deal. In parallel, Ymagis has been engaged to offer an individual digital solution to the remaining sites under the Cinédiffusion umbrella (131 screens in 84 sites). Ymagis has committed to covering at least half of the equipment and financing costs of all cinemas having a continuous commercial activity. If both of the Ymagis deals come to fruition, around 13 per cent of the territory's screen base will be converted, considerably more than Germany, Spain and Italy. Due to 3D deals, the UK will also experience significant d-screen growth this year. Ymagis has already signed up 92 screens from 15 exhibitors.

Our take...
The French digital conversion is not currently being driven solely by 3D, which is the case in the UK and USA, but is being led by regionally-based mid-sized exhibitors, Sorédic and CGR, who see a competitive advantage in digitising the entire network now. These two circuits have also chosen third party deployment entities.

The problem in France remains the leading companies, UGC and Europalaces, which have more to lose in digitising and the large number of smaller exhibitors that may not fit into, or want to fit into, the current VPF models. However, we are now beginning to see smaller sites being included in deals, such as this one and the Dutch consortium under Arts Alliance, suggesting that a creative approach can get around the perception that these deals are not for the smaller exhibitor. The Ymagis deal will be an interesting test case for this section of the market.

By David Hancock, ScreenDigest