Digital roll-out moves a step closer

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The industry-wide digital cinema roll-out moved a step closer with Sony’s announcement that it had signed a VPF agreement with Digital Cinema Implementation Partners (DCIP), the consortium formed by AMC, Cinemark and Regal to manage their transition to digital. That leaves only Warner Bros. among the major studios to be without a VPF agreement for the second phase of the digital cinema conversion.

“We’re in the middle of negotiations,” Warners domestic distribution president Dan Fellman said. “We’re close. So we might be the last one, but we’re going to get there.”

Sony signed its VPF pact with Digital Cinema Implementation Partners several weeks ago, but the news was delayed pending internal review of the formal announcement.

Through VPFs, studios volunteer to pay the equivalent of print costs for years after switching to digital distribution as a means of defraying most exhibitor costs to convert auditoriums. Sony refers to its VPF as a “digital conversion fee.”

For Warners, set to release more films this year than any other distributor, the cost of a VPF is likely to run considerably higher than that for studios with lower annual output. Sony also is among the most prolific film distributors.

Of course, the roll-out will depend on the unlocking of the credit markets as the DCIP 14,000-screen deal alone will cost in the billion dollar range. Then comes the Cinema Buying Group’s (CBG) approximately 7,000 screens – a more complex deal despite the smaller size owing to the number of companies, the diversity of markets, and types of theaters involved.