In the US, the digital cinema rollout is wrapping up. Cinedigm, the first US deployment entity, and the second in the world only to Digital Cinema Implementation Partners (DCIP), has come to the end of its signup period for exhibitors. As of the end of the month, it signed up 11,563 screens, with less than 800 screens to install by year’s end. In comparison, DCIP will count around 15,000 converted screens by year end. For the US altogether, approximately 31,000 screens were converted by month end, and an estimated 33,000 will be converted by year end. That leaves an estimated 6,500 screens that will be converted either through other VPF deals, or through direct purchase. This publication estimates that approximately 3000 of those screens will have paid out-of-pocket.
The US has around 38,000 screens, which will leave around 13% of screens unconverted. That number will get smaller in 2013, as mom and pop cinemas wait for lower cost equipment, or wait for funds to come through to allow them to buy. Many small town cinemas in the US are seeking donations to aid in their conversion.
In the end, some cinemas will simply close once film is no longer available. Where once cinema owners would talk about when studios would decide to stop distributing film, the question today is reframed as how much longer will there be film to print. This month, Fuji, which produces some 20% of film stock for motion pictures, says it will discontinue the production of motion picture film in Spring 2013. Agfa has long been out of the motion picture film business. That leaves Kodak, who filed for bankruptcy protection in January of this year, and has discontinued production of several motion picture stocks as it fine tunes its operations. One can expect that the cost of motion picture print film is rapidly rising, and that those costs will eventually be passed on to exhibitors who still want a film print, until there are too few buyers to make further production worthwhile.
Possibly as worrisome for the industry is the long-term availability of motion picture film stock for archive purposes. Unlike digital files, which require various degrees of volatile storage mediums and suffer from obsolescence of readers, properly stored film can survive 100 years and only requires a lens and a light to recover the image. Motion pictures is only one area where archiving is now recognized as a major problem. Medical and science journals are pondering this problem, as are other knowledge centers. Numerous studies have been conducted for how to address archiving in the digital age, which tend to only lead to further studies. If one thinks that the limited production of film presents a problem, it should be compared with the short production lifetime of silicon integrated circuits, upon which all digital technology relies.
Having reached the pinnacle of the rollout in the US, there are other data points that stand out. DLP has scored 85% of the world market, leaving Sony with just 15%. Sony’s share is possibly larger, however, than NEC’s. If one assumes that there are sales and commitments for 90,000 screens in the world, 20,000 more to sell, and approximately 10,000 that will close, then the percentages will likely hold. However, Sony could be the exception, as its disproportionate share of the US will be diluted in the world count as exhibitors elsewhere flock to DLP.
As interesting is the count recently taken of projector systems with IMBs. Only projector systems with IMBs can support HFR (higher frame rates), but not all IMBs currently installed in projectors can support HFR. One estimate is that around 15,000 IMBs are now installed. Let’s assume 50% of those are HFR compatible. Add to this the number of Sony projectors, which are also HFR compatible with an upgrade, and we have a little over 20,000 HFR capable installations in the world, or about 25%. Not bad. Now if only there were a movie…