Digital pix on a big roll

Sony homevid unit making charges

The number of worldwide digital theatrical releases doubled in 2005, driven by pics from Disney, Fox and Warner Bros., according to a report by market analyst Screen Digest.

Ninety-seven digital pics were released, up from 47 in 2004. Of those, 87 were firstrun titles including “Star Wars: Episode III — Revenge of the Sith,” which Fox released digitally in 25 territories last year.

The growth was matched by a 153% surge in the number of commercial digital cinema screens in the world — up from 335 in 2004 to 849 in 2005. Growth was accelerated by a pact on technical specifications inked by the U.S. studios in June.

China and the U.S. remain in the lead on the adoption of d-cinema, with 29 and 27 digital releases, respectively.

In the U.S., those 27 films represented 21% of the 131 films released by the majors.

Disney, Fox and WB were the most enthusiastic practitioners, releasing seven digital films each.

There were just 11 digital releases in the U.K. in 2005, but that number is set to rise sharply in 2006. The rollout of the U.K. Film Council’s 240-screen Digital Screen Network is ahead of schedule and will position the territory as Europe’s digital hot spot.

The number of Stateside digital screens rose to 324 at the end of 2005, up from just 85 in 2004.

But the digital march is not limited to major territories — in 2005 a d-screen cropped up on the tropical island of Reunion, a French territory in the Indian Ocean.

“D-cinema rollout has begun … currently on a small scale, but with a gathering momentum,” said David Hancock, Screen Digest senior cinema analyst. “The driver territory will be the U.S. The studios have largely been successful in retaining control over the pace of d-cinema development, and now most seem ready to move forward with full rollout.”

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