Technicolor marks deal of the Century

Chain to get digital systems as part of beta test

Continuing the heated battle for digital-cinema deployment, Technicolor has signed Century Theaters as the first exhib in its corner.

Midsized chain will initially get digital systems as part of Technicolor’s beta test this spring. If the test goes smoothly, Technicolor will install digital projectors and servers for all of Century’s 1,000-plus screens.

Deal comes shortly after Christie/AIX, Technicolor’s primary competitor to oversee deployment of d-cinema, signed Carmike Cinemas as its first client. Carmike has about 2,300 screens.

Christie/AIX, a joint venture of projector maker Christie and software provider AccessIT, is moving faster than Technicolor, starting its rollout immediately with a goal of reaching all of Carmike’s screens by the end of 2007. Since equipment fully in line with the standards set by Digital Cinema Initiatives, an org funded by all the major studios, is not yet available, Christie/AIX will have to provide upgrades for the first systems it deploys. Studios will release films only for DCI-compliant equipment once it becomes available.

“It doesn’t make sense to put out equipment that’s only partway there,” Technicolor Electronic Distribution Services topper Joe Berchtold said. “Those of us who have been around know a beta test is the right thing to do.”

Technicolor has set an aggressive goal of turning 15,000 screens digital in the next decade; Christie/AIX is aiming for 10,000 by 2010. Both say they are in advanced talks with other exhibs to come aboard shortly. Technicolor will need at least one more in the near future to reach its goal of a beta test involving 180-240 screens this spring.

For the time being, the country’s three biggest exhibs won’t be available as clients. AMC, Cinemark and Regal recently formed a company, National CineMedia, to oversee d-cinema for their combined 11,000 screens. Berchtold said he still hopes his firm can be part of National CineMedia’s plans, however.

Technicolor has moved aggressively into digital cinema to keep its place in the business as the production and distribution of 35mm film prints, one of its primary businesses, disappears in favor of movies stored on a hard drive.

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