Country mulls digital dilemma at CineAsia

Even as Hollywood tubthumps 3-D as the next big driver for the theatrical market, Indian exhibitors are banking on local alternative content to drive digital conversion on the subcontinent.

Speaking at the opening seminar at the CineAsia exhibition and distribution convention in Macau on Tuesday, Tushar Dhingra, chief operating officer of Indian exhib BIG Cinemas, pointed to the recent launch of the Indian Premier League, which plays 2½-hour cricket matches, as killer content for digital cinema screens.

“The first season was lapped up by the audience across India,” said Dhingra. “We believe that this shorter form of cricket will be interesting to showcase in the cinemas, and we are looking forward to see how it is going to impact and change India’s box office.”

The cinema chain plans to install 500 digital screens by 2010. But Dhingra is less optimistic about the popularity of 3-D films, which mostly come from Hollywood, citing the low market share of American films, which account for between 5% and 9% of the Indian exhibition biz.

“We will be providing 3-D in our showcase properties, but we don’t see a large penetration of that in the next 24 months,” said Dhingra.

Other industry execs who spoke at the forum pointed to issues such as the popularity of e-cinema screens, a lower-resolution and lower-cost exhibition format that uses 1.3K or 1.9K projectors, as opposed to the standardized 2K digital cinema format prevalent in digital projection.

Research presented at the forum indicated that by the end of 2009, India will have 2,000 e-cinema screens — a figure driven, as executives pointed out, by the availability of local content.

E-cinemas are affecting the rate of digital conversion and the expansion of Hollywood films out of major Indian metro centers. Only 300 d-cinema screens are expected to be installed by the end of 2009.

“There is obviously no support from U.S. majors for (e-cinema) studio product, although we have observed that the majors have actually been supporting e-cinema with their locally produced films,” said Sunder Kimatrai, VP for the Asia-Pacific region at 20th Century Fox Intl. “This is because the revenue opportunities are too important to pass up.”

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