Pact covers supply of digital prints in U.K.

Universal Pictures Intl. has inked with exhib Odeon-UCI to provide digital versions of its films in the U.K. and Ireland.

This is Odeon-UCI’s fifth studio pact following similar deals with Warner Bros., Fox, Paramount and Disney in the territory — and it allows the loop to access funding for the U.K. part of its full digital rollout.

The exhib, which is the largest in Europe, will receive digital features from the five studios to DCI-compliant digital projection systems installed at its sites. It said the move to 100% digital projection is expected to be completed by the end of 2012.

Rupert Gavin, CEO of Odeon-UCI, said, “The deal with Universal culminates three years of intense preparation for digital by our company, and puts us on track to be Europe’s leading provider of digital screens within the next two years.”

David Hancock, head of film and cinema at Screen Digest, said the UPI-Odeon agreement is a watershed deal.

“It symbolizes that, with the credit crunch over, the major European exhibitor has committed to digital,” he said. “With Odeon owning a third of the screen space in the U.K., this means a large proportion of the U.K. market will be digital in the near future.”

Odeon-UCI already has 154 digital screens in the U.K. Those screens are incorporated into the deal, with all its 800 screens expected to be digitized by sometime in 2012.

The group said £70 million ($106 million) will be invested in digital conversion, of which about half is in the U.K.

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