The EC is carrying out a public fact finding mission to learn the business challenges of converting to digital cinema. Its request for information is posted at http://ec.europa.eu/information_society/media/overview/consultations/index_en.htm.
There are four questionnaires, each geared for a different industry segment. Naturally, many questions are pointed directly at Hollywood decision making: (some questions paraphrased)
- Are you comfortable with projectors less than 2K in resolution?
- Have you been refused films when using a projector less than 2K?
- Should there be one single standard for digital projection?
And a bevy of questions geared to learn the business factors behind the conversion to digital cinema:
- How much money was saved through digital distribution?
- What is the range of VPFs that you’ve paid?
- How can the complimentarity of a public support scheme with existing VPF models be ensured?
- Do you feel your cinema is among those that would close because it is unable to convert?
The EC is likely to be disappointed. Many of the deeper answers it seeks are confidential information. Most interesting, however, is what it didn’t ask. Not one question is geared towards understanding how the limited distribution of security keys has upset the multiplex business model for cinema operators in Europe. While there is general agreement among US distributors and exhibitors to deliver all of the keys required in a multiplex to play a booked movie on any screen, no such understanding exists in Europe. Nor are any questions geared towards understanding the replacement cycle and associated costs of digital cinema equipment. The absence of a strong and well-informed voice for European exhibition is evident.
Still, the most detailed questionnaire is that for exhibitors, a clue that this is the sector behind the study. No doubt there are exhibitors seeking financial help for conversion. It’s estimated that as many as 10% of exhibitors in the US may not survive the transition, and that percentage may apply to Europe as well.
But not all exhibitors are looking to government for help. This month a European exhibitor announced it was taking matters into its own hands. Privately owned Digital Deployment Associates Limited announced its signing of virtual print fee agreements with three major studios, with the intent to roll out digital cinema in Odeon/UCI screens in the UK and continental Europe. In addition, Arts Alliance Media announced that it signed UK-based Reel Cinemas.