Technicolor projects digital Real Image

Company takes 49% stake

Looking to secure a place for itself in the coming era of digital exhibition, film processing giant Technicolor has acquired a 49% stake in L.A.-based Real Image Technology.

Technicolor, a subsidiary of the U.K.’s Carlton Communications, is paying $23 million for the stake, with an option to buy another 11.5% at prenegotiated terms. It has also agreed to invest a further $60 million if trials of Real Image’s approach to the technology prove successful.

Real Image has spent the past five years working with studio, theater-circuit and technology execs to develop standards for the electronic distribution of feature films.

While equipment manufacturers Hughes/JVC and Texas Instruments are front-runners in the race to develop high-resolution digital projectors, Real Image is focused on the digital compression, encryption and storage of motion picture images.

The startup has partnered with Sarnoff, a Princeton, N.J.-based research facility, to create compression technology needed to transmit and store image data efficiently.

Founded by Linwood Dunn, an Oscar-winning cinema technology pioneer, Real Image launched publicly at ShoWest in March. Company’s president is Donald Rogers, a respected industry veteran and former Warner Bros. senior VP of post-production services.

Digital age toehold

Technicolor’s investment in Real Image comes just two months after the film processing and print delivery company brought in former DreamWorks technology guru Rob Hummel to help it gain a toehold in the digital age.

Before deciding to put its money behind Real Image, Technicolor kicked the tires at three competing companies, including Cinecomm Digital Cinema.

One of Real Image’s selling points was its consensus-building approach to creating an open standard that would allow competing systems to work together.

Open system

“In Hollywood, the only thing that is going to fly is an open system,” said Hummel, exec VP, digital technologies development. “You don’t want to get into a situation where you have to make five different versions of your film for five different systems.”

Technicolor’s move was also preemptive. “I didn’t want to wake up one day and read that someone else had done it,” said Hummel.

While Technicolor’s photo processing and 35mm print distribution businesses are grounded in current film technology, the company’s long-standing relationships with studios and exhibitors could give it an edge as it attempts to move into digital film distribution.

“We’re absolutely delighted that Technicolor, a longtime force in the motion picture industry, is taking steps to assure their involvement in the future,” said Phil Barlow, exec VP of electronic cinema for Walt Disney Co.

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