Cycle Vs. Rollout
Digital Fever Leaves
Heartache For Some
by Michael Karagosian
NATO Digital Cinema Consultant
for new digital cinema installations with this years
release of Star Wars: Episode II Attack of the
Clones has made at least one exhibition camper very
unhappy. This is a sad but true story. Im leaving out
the real names of those involved, as to some extent they all
share responsibility. But for those who think digital cinema
is all excitement and no pain, please read this.
read my articles regularly, a few messages should be clear
by now. First is that we are in a prototype stage for digital
cinema. Digital cinema is in an experimental cycle; it is
not ready for rollout. Second is that no one digital cinema
format is supported by all major studios, and some studios
dont support digital cinema at all. For many stakeholders
involved, there are long-term issues over quality yet to be
fully addressed. Third, for the simple reason of economics,
digital cinema has at least a few years to go before moving
beyond the prototype stage. It is simply too costly to implement
report on digital cinema released by Credit Suisse First
(available at http://www.sabucat.com/digital.pdf) comes to similar
conclusions, if with even less optimism. They predict 5
penetration by digital cinema by 2006. From a system compatibility
perspective, many things could change by then, including
technology, image format, compression format, security format,
and digital packaging method. Engagement with digital cinema
today is not a lighthearted decision.
one wouldnt know these things if all one saw were the
stories in the media. The press releases from Lucasfilm gloss
over these issues. Its easy to create digital fever
with the public, but its the duty of the businesses
involved to take responsible action. Certainly, the hype surrounding
Episode II caused more than a few to overlook
the three basic points mentioned above.
mind that theres a need for prototype installations.
Experience is needed with the various digital formats and
equipment available to make proper choices down the road.
Prior to Episode II, the push for prototype installations
was responsibly and fairly managed. Major markets were addressed,
and exhibition chains large enough to afford the risks involved
were solicited. However, with digital fever at its peak, the
push went a little too far for Mr. Jones.
has a passion for cinema, and digital cinema seemed very exciting.
Hes not a theatre owner with deep pockets, as he only
operates six screens. Somehow his interest in digital cinema
became known to Company X. Mr. Jones was pitched and he bought
HOLLYWOOD NewCo Digital Cinema (NDC), the corporate
coalition formed by seven major film studios, announced
June 17 that Clearview Cinemas president Chuck Goldwater
would serve as NDCs CEO.
exhibition veteran, Goldwater was senior vice president
of Loews Theatres from 1990 to 1995, then president
and CEO of Mann Theatres from 1995 to 1997. Before joining
Clearview as president, Goldwater was president and
CEO of Iwerks Entertainment.
was formed in March 2002 to promote the development
of and ensure a uniformity in the technical performance,
reliability and quality control of digital cinema.
have been exciting to think hed be one of the few showing
Episode II in digital. But excitement can lead
to bad decisions. In the process of installation, Company
X noted that he didnt have a lot of room in the projection
booth, and it was agreed to take out his 35mm projector, leaving
Mr. Jones with no backup.
one thinks of a backup as a means to overcome failure of equipment.
But in this case the backup is really a primary
system, as not all movies are released in a digital format.
Unfortunately, Mr. Jones didnt seem to be aware of this.
There were some important issues that Company X may have glossed
over as well. Mr. Jones was being sold a system incorporating
a new digital cinema format for which the major studios had
yet to demonstrate support. The push for this new system wasnt
entirely the work of Company X, however, as Lucasfilm, through
its THX division, also heavily promoted this particular format.
There are many places to point the finger, but in the end,
none of this fared well for Mr. Jones. His one digital screen,
installed without a 35mm projector as backup, is about to
go dark. When I spoke with Mr. Jones, he had no idea which,
if any, digital movie would next be released for his system.
But he knew one thing: His payments for the system were still
by the time this story goes to print, Mr. Jones will be in
better shape. Hell have either settled his differences
with Company X; hell have some product to play on his
new digital system; or hell have found the space to
re-install his 35mm projector.
however, should be clear. Remember the mantra for digital
cinema: We are only in a prototype stage. This is not a rollout;
digital cinema is not (yet) a mature business. There are no
guarantees regarding product to play on these systems.
means, experimenters are needed. Those who are willing to
brave the issues and give digital cinema a try are contributing
to the knowledge base of experience, and will be a source
of valuable feedback to the equipment suppliers. But if youre
giving consideration to joining the experiment, and wish to
buy a digital cinema system, be sure to take the time to understand
the risks involved. If that sounds like you, youre a
NATO member, and you feel the need to ask questions, you know
where to call.