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Europe set for wide digital rollout

Conditions rights for expansion

LONDON — Europe is set for a wide-scale rollout of digital cinema next year, according to U.K.-based cinema research org Screen Digest.

Optimistic outlook follows last week’s announcement that Sony Pictures Releasing Intl. has signed a long-term deal with Europe’s leading digital cinema deployment org Arts Alliance Media.

AAM has similar deals in place with 20th Century Fox, Universal Pictures Intl. and Paramount Pictures Intl.

“The insurmountable obstacle of exhibitor access to key content has been removed with four studios now backing a rollout program and the building blocks for a mainstream market deployment are in place,” commented David Hancock, the report’s lead author and Screen Digest’s head of cinema.

Report notes that the digitization of screens is moving quickest in the U.K. — partly thanks to the impact of the U.K. Film Council’s 240-screen Digital Screen Network. Screen Digest predicts three quarters of U.K. screens will be digital by end of 2012.

France has been lagging in the digitalization race but that may soon change, says the report, which highlights the potential impact of 400 screen chain Circuit Georges Raymond being the first exhibitor to join Arts Alliance’s VPF-funded European roll-out.

“This will serve to focus the industry on this issue and change the framework of the debate,” states the Screen Digest assessment.

Hancock warns against over-optimism about the digital revolution in Europe: “The key building blocks for the European market are moving into place and the CGR deal indicates that a viable model has been found. However, it would be naive to suggest that the conversion to digital is proving easy, and the key issue that continues to tax people in Europe is how to pay for it for all levels of the market.”

Hancock says “differing cinema cultures and governments” in Europe are creating market complexity.

Hancock’s reservations are shared by Karsten-Peter Grummitt from rival cinema analyst outfit Dodona Research. Speaking of the Sony/AAM pact, Grummitt told Variety that “this is encouraging if not unexpected news for digital cinema in Europe. Price remains the big stumbling block for distributors and exhibitors and there is plenty more good news still to come before the European digital cinema revolution is complete.”

A whopping 78% of the world’s 5,500 digital cinemas — 5.5% of global modern screens — are in the U.S. Screen Digest projects that the latter percentage will rise to 30% by 2010.

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