CGR Cinemas: Intl. Exhibitor of the Year

PARIS — Jocelyn Bouyssy’s decision in late 2007 to convert all 400 screens in his nationwide CGR cinema network to digital was a bold move.

But risk-taking is the order of the day for Bouyssy, CEO of France’s third-biggest cinema chain, which will be named International Exhibitor of the Year at this month Cinema Expo.

April saw the opening of France’s first fully digital cineplex in CGR’s 12-room flagship in La Rochelle on the Atlantic coast — the type of midsized French city where the outfit has been seizing expansion opportunities nationwide since the mid-’80s.

An agreement inked in November with Arts Alliance Media (AAM), Europe’s biggest provider of digital distribution services, paves the way for CGR’s full digital rollout, skedded for the end of 2009.

The plan, marking the first time AAM has made a virtual print fee deal with an exhibitor, has been called a milestone for the French industry.

It’s also being seen by many as confirmation of the viability of the virtual print fee (VPF) business model for much of Europe.

So far, 19 screens in eight CGR multiplexes have been fitted with DCI-compliant 2K projection systems. Another hundred screens will be installed by the end of July in 12 cities around the country.

To ease the transition, the 35mm systems are still in place, making projection in either format possible.

While admitting that the VPF business model may not be feasible everywhere in Europe for smaller outfits, Bouyssy feels that in France “the reticence is getting weaker” among those in the industry still not fully convinced that d-cinema is the future.

And despite the expense involved in going digital, he feels “technological evolution — 3-D technology especially — is necessary” even in terms of “maintaining the French market at its current level, while offering hope for future development.”

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