Plan allows for total conversion in France

France’s government-backed Centre National du Cinema film board has established guidelines for converting screens to digital.

Although there is no one-size-fits-all strategy for Europe’s digital cinema switchover, CNC policy — a mixed model of public sector intervention and private sector initiative — will be studied and adapted by many Western Europe governments.

“Everyone’s waiting for the French,” said David Hancock, Screen Digest head of film and cinema.

CNC intervention will cut two ways: public subsidies for smaller cinema conversion and a bank loan guarantee scheme co-ordinated with France’s Ifcic semi-public bank, said Lionel Bertinet, CNC deputy director of film in charge of digital cinema.

The CNC will coordinate subsidies with municipal and regional authorities and the EU Media Program, Bertinet added. The CNC aims to launch its digital conversion system by the end of June.

According to Bertinet, subsidies will target sites that won’t interest third-party facilitators offering Virtual Print Fee deals — where distributors pony up most conversion costs working through digital deployment integrators such as Paris-based Ymagis. These third-party facilitators then ink financing deals with theaters.

The VPF model “will not alone be able to ensure the complete switchover to digital cinema” in France, Bertinet said.

Subsidized theaters will be hardtops with a low turnover in programming, often France’s 1,219 single-screen sites — according to 2008 figures — most often found in rural areas or small towns.

Bank loan guarantees are open to any theater, but will be capped. Subsidies target screens in under 50-screen theater circuits, Bertinet said.

CNC funding amounts for digital conversion are still under discussion.

France is Europe’s digital frontrunner: Once a 3D laggard, France boasted 959 digital screens year-end 2009 and 710 3D screens, according to Hancock.

He estimates Gaul will have 1,437 digital screens by year-end, 905 in 3D.

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