Is 3D the tail wagging the digital dog?

Reel Blog   

Prime 3D evangelist Jeffrey Katzenberg, NATO president John Fithian and Classic Cinema’s Chris Johnson talked 3D at ShowEast Tuesday.

Katzenberg was enthusiastic:

(T)he advent of 3-D filmmaking and exhibition also is “an opportunity for a game-changer for your business,” he told exhibitors filling a large ballroom at the Orlando Marriott World Center.

But unlike digital cinema systems, distributors are unwilling to pay for the installation of 3D equipment. Katzenberg asserted that exhibitors will be able to charge a premium for 3D content of at least $1 a ticket. Classic Cinema’s Johnson noted

With “Chicken Little,” the chain enjoyed grosses more than one-third higher than would have been true without 3-D availability, Johnson said.

“Literally, with one picture, you will have paid for the cost of the installation of one screen,” Katzenberg said.

Johnson, however, couldn’t let the opportunity for some good-natured ribbing of his podium partner slip by.

“The unfortunate part is, you have to share some of that (extra) gross with the studio,” he jibed.

NATO’s Fithian made the point that a broad and stable base of digital cinema systems is the first priority, both as a requirement for 3D and for the health of the industry – a point backed up by an independent exhibitor in the audience.

The majors have agreed to underwrite the rollout of thousands of d-cinema systems by paying third-party installers the equivalent of what distributors will save in print costs during the next few years. Such agreements have been dubbed virtual film print agreements, or VPFs.

“Let’s remember that digital is the dog, and 3-D is the tail — a very important, wagging tail,” Fithian said.

Katzenberg replied that the metaphor might fairly be reversed and went on to predict that within just a few years two-thirds of all major movies will be released in 3-D — about 40 or more 3-D titles per year.

“Let’s get the digital-cinema platform there, so we’re not doing hodgepodge 3-D installations,” Fithian said.

Indeed, exhibitors in smaller markets are still waiting for help with digital startup costs.

Greg Razmus, who operates an eight-screen theater in Corbin, Ky., said the closest digital screens in his area are in distant Lexington, Ky., and Knoxville, Tenn.

“We’re still struggling with digital,” Razmus said. “I think the 3-D part of that is going to be great, but at this point it’s still a dream.”

So, is 3D the tail wagging the dog – or will it be the dog that didn’t bark?