Digital Cinema Conversion Nears End Game

90% of screens worldwide to be digital by end of year

On the eve of the CineEurope exhibitors’ conference in Barcelona, a report published by research org Screen Digest has revealed that the conversion of theaters to digital projection across the world is “approaching the end game.”

Screen Digest expects the digital format to be in use at 90% of screens worldwide by the end of this year. At the end of the first quarter this year, the d-screen count stood at 94,638, plus 5,500 lower-grade e-cinema screens in India; another 20,000 screens are likely to digitize by the end of the year. With nearly 130,000 screens in the world, there are fewer than 30,000 35mm screens left to convert.

At the end of last year, 68.7% of screen had been converted worldwide. North America led the way with 84% conversion, while Europe stood at 70.4%. Asia Pacific was 59.2%, and Middle East/Africa was at 41.2%. Central/South America came at the back of the pack with 40.6% conversion.

There was wide disparity within continents. In Europe, Norway, Denmark, Luxembourg and Netherlands reached total conversion. Belgium, France, Finland, Switzerland and the U.K. were all above 90%. But Spain and Italy hovered around 50%, and Greece stood at 24.1% and Slovenia at 23.6%.

In Asia, South Korea and Singapore reached 100% conversion, while Hong Kong, Indonesia and Taiwan were all above 90%. Turkey meanwhile languished with a 16.2% d-cinema conversion, and India had 10.2%, although the country has 5,500 e-cinema screens.

In Central/South America, no country has reached the 50% level. The best it gets is in Mexico with 49.1% conversion in 2012, and a growth rate of 31.1% in the first three months of 2013, and Colombia at 44.3%, with Argentina at 24.5% and Venezuela as low as 20.2%.

In North America, Canada is almost entirely digitized, while the U.S. is 83% there.

The factor that often marks out the high achievers, Screen Digest said, is the presence of a concerted industry- or government-led program of conversion, including a single entity to lead negotiations with the studios to close a VPF deal. Public coin in countries like France and Germany can give an added push. Most of the slower converters are also those with the worst economic problems — such as Greece, Spain and Italy.

In the U.S., there were still 5,500 screens to convert, many of them indie theaters, although Cinedigm’s NATO-CBG program will help many of these to switch. Those that remain — mostly art-house or small-town venues — may be picked up by Scrabble Ent.’s VPF-backed leasing system.

CineEurope, which runs June 24-27, attracts more than 1,500 exhibition and distribution professionals from Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

Among the screenings this year are DreamWorks Animation’s “Turbo,” Warner Bros.’ “Pacific Rim” and “We’re the Millers,” Universal’s “Despicable Me 2,” Paramount’s “World War Z,” Disney’s “Planes,” Lionsgate’s “Red 2″ and Disney’s “The Lone Ranger.”

Among honorees are Gallic export org UniFrance, for its contribution to the independent film sector, Disney’s Dave Hollis, who is named International Distributor of the Year, Turkey’s Mars Ent. Group CEO Muzaffer Yildirim, who is the International Exhibitor of the Year, and Ad Weststrate, an independent theater owner and former prexy of the International Union of Cinemas (UNIC), who receives the UNIC Achievement Award.

CineEurope is the official convention of UNIC.

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