U boards digital train

Studio to partner with Christie/AIX

And then there were three.

Universal has signed on as the third major studio to provide its pics to Christie/AIX, the joint venture between Christie and AccessIT aiming to deploy 4,000 digital cinema systems around the country.

Like Disney and Fox, which have already committed to work with Christie/AIX, U will provide most of its pics in digital format over the next few years. It will pay the company a “virtual print fee” to distribute digital versions of its pics to theaters around the country.

Deal covers only pics from U proper, but may expand to include labels Focus and Rogue under similar terms.

Pact is nonexclusive, meaning Universal can and likely will work with other companies looking to drive deployment of digital cinema, or d-cinema, systems like Technicolor, Dolby and the Kodak-Barco partnership.

Systems deployed by Christie/AIX would use Christie servers and AccessIT server software. Other companies similarly are hoping to raise funds to get their own d-cinema products into theaters.

Such efforts are just gearing up after Digital Cinema Initiatives, the joint venture set up by studios to create a common d-cinema format, put out its final technical specs in August.

By getting content commitments from major studios, Christie/AIX will be better able to raise coin from investors to reach its goal of 4,000 d-cinema screens in the U.S. and Canada. It currently only has funds to deploy to 150 theaters by the end of this year.

“This is a big step forward in the transition to digital cinema,” said Nikki Rocco, U’s prexy of distribution. “Universal is pleased to be making its first digital distribution deal.”

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