Toho, NTT team up for digital delivery of pics

Osaka theater to be used as test for new distrib'n format

TOKYO — Japan’s top movie exhibitor Toho Co. will team with one of the nation’s largest regional telecom carriers to test a system for delivering digital movies over a fiber-optic network, industry sources said.

Toho will work with NTT West for the digital pic delivery system at Toho’s main theater in Osaka in July, they said.

If the test is successful, it could pave the way for digital movie delivery in Tokyo and Osaka where NTT regional carriers have been laying fiber optic networks and Toho controls some of the most lucrative theater circuits. The test could also be the first step in making digital movies the norm in Japan’s two major movie markets.

Concentrated outlets

Japan can make the jump to digital movie distribution more quickly than the U.S. because of the concentration of its media outlets, fewer theaters, and broad areas covered by its two main local telecom carriers.

With some of the highest per-screen averages in the world, however, the pressure is not as high in Japan as in the U.S. to cut costs by moving toward digital projection.

Toho and NTT West are to spend about $6 million for the tests, and the government may chip in some funds.

Rival Toei Co. has been testing a digital movie distribution system via satellite.

The digital movie market in Japan is in its early stages with one digital theater in Tokyo and a couple of major theaters having digital projection screens. Disney has been at the forefront in digital movies in Japan with three of its films — “Dinosaur,” “Mission to Mars” and “Toy Story 2” — being shown in digital format.