Digital Will Take Hold in 2008

"This week Access Integrated Technologies announced the completion of phase one of its digital cinema deployment and unveiled phase two, a three-year, 10,000-screen rollout that will commence in the first quarter of next year. Although the company’s release was short on details—which exhibitors and distributors would be participating in this second stage have yet to be revealed—the move is significant for a few reasons.

First, it solidifies what Boxoffice reported in the pages of its November issue—that 2008 is poised to be the year that a hypothetical chart of digital cinema installations goes into a steep curve toward complete conversion. AccessIT is the uncontested leader in North American deployment. Nearing 3,750 screens, the software firm and third-party integrator has digitized 10 percent of the U.S. marketplace. 10,000 more accounts for more than one-third.

Meanwhile, Digital Cinema Implementation Partners, a joint venture owned by top circuits AMC, Cinemark and Regal, is poised to pull the trigger on digitizing the 15,000 screens it represents in the first half of 2008. Technicolor Digital Cinema, another third-party integrator, expects to segue from its digital beta test to a larger deployment now that Digital Cinema Initiatives has announced a Compliance Test Plan for the integration of its technology specification. And Cinema Buying Group, a digital cinema co-op for independent exhibitors, met to discuss the responses to its Request for Proposals during ShowEast, with implementation possible as early as the first part of next year.

In 2008, digital will be coming more and more often to a theatre near you.

What’s particularly interesting to the industry about AccessIT’s announcement is that the new plan “will build on the valued relationships established with Christie USA and Doremi Labs Inc. ... while tapping into the substantial additional resources of other interested vendors.” When AccessIT Digital Cinema launched in June 2005 as Christie/AIX, the company had an exclusive agreement with its namesake projector manufacturer. Both firms deserve kudos for kick-starting the process, but the arrangement limited equipment options for exhibitors.

In my conversations with AccessIT execs over the past year or more, they’ve emphasized that Christie “has been and will continue to be a valued partner” but that the quantities of equipment that will be required for a phase-two deployment demand relationships with additional vendors. In addition, exhibitors may prefer to work with another supplier.

As a result, Barco and NEC, who, like Christie, are licensees of Texas Instruments’ DLP Cinema technology but have been shut out of the industry’s most aggressive rollout of digital cinema, may be able to join AccessIT’s deployment. And exhibitors may have the option of choosing Sony’s 4K-resolution projection system or Dolby’s 3D solution (versus Doremi-compatible Real D).

Note, however, that no additional vendors have been named yet.

Finally, AccessIT’s phase-two agreements with distributors, which use “substantially” the same virtual print fee model as in phase one, are “structured so they may be amended to international deployment as well.” The rollout of digital cinema overseas has been more challenging than in the U.S. due to more fragmented markets with less reliance on Hollywood studio product. That an international consideration has been worked into AccessIT’s phase two agreements indicates global digitization is one small step closer to being realized."

By Annlee Ellingson, Boxoffice