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Friday, August 12, 2005

The other digital cinema network

Most stories written about Hollywood's digital cinema roll-out, which is happening rather slowly because studios and theater-owners can't agree on who should pay, ignore the fact that there's another digital cinema roll-out that's going gangbusters.

Kevin Massy of wrote a piece that appeared Monday about a deal involving Christie, which makes digital projectors, to put them in 2,400 Cinemark theaters around the country. The installation begins this month.

The catch is that these aren't digital projectors that will be used to show movies or even trailers; they're projectors that will show pre-show ads. (The projectors Christie is deploying here don't deliver a picture quality that would satisfy the major studios and their Digital Cinema Initiatives standard. It's an LCD projector rather than a DLP projector.)

About 100 million Cinemark patrons will start enjoying their digital pre-show ads starting January 1, 2006.

Massy writes, "According to the Cinema Advertising Council (CAC), a trade association set up in 2003, on-screen advertising revenues in the United States grew 20 percent last year to $374m, while off-screen promotions — including revenue from in-lobby networks — rose 41 percent to $64m."

That means there's a clear economic rationale for installing these projectors: the ad revenue will pay for them pretty quick.

My two questions: how soon will theater owners and studios feel like the economic rationale for more-expensive DLP projectors is clear, to show feature films? And will audiences begin associating "digital cinema" with pre-show ads they don't want to see shown at decent (but not spectacular) resolution?