T Joy, Tokyu, United, Warner in pact

TOKYO — Four leading Japanese multiplex operators — T Joy, Tokyu Recreation, United Cinemas and Warner Mycal — have agreed to cooperate in scheduling and digitalization, according to company sources.

“Now it’s hard for to us to schedule enough of the films our customers really want to see,” explained United Cinemas prexy Masanori Miyata. “By joining together to negotiate (with the distributors) we aim to change that.”

Miyata emphasized that the four partners will not move in lockstep. “We will still be speaking with the distributors individually,” he explained. “Also, there is

no one leader — we are going into this as equal partners.”

The four companies operate a total of 104 sites across the country. By coordinating their negotiating efforts, they intend to maximize the power of their chains, while minimizing destructive competition. “We will discuss which films are good for which sites,” Miyata said. “So some films may play at all 104 sites, while others may play at only 80. We will try to be as flexible as possible — this is an ‘open track’ project.”

The skeds of the four partners are already set for most of the first half of the year, so their coordination efforts “will start to bear fruit starting around the Golden Week (late April to early May) holidays,” Miyata said.

A second major area of cooperation will be the introduction of digital cinema. “There are plus and minuses to digitalization,” Miyata explained. “The biggest minus is the expense — how do we introduce digital systems without going into the red?” To keep their balance sheets in the black, the four partners will jointly negotiate with equipment suppliers and distribs to get the best deals. “We’ve already launched a study group,” said Miyata. “We have to understand our options before we move to the next step.”

The four partners currently operate 70 digital and 28 3-D screens out a total of 940 in their chains. “We expect these numbers to increase rapidly,” Miyata said.

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