Digital pix panel sharpens focus

Consortium focusing on name, place, funds

HOLLYWOOD — The fledgling studio consortium on digital cinema is close to announcing a name for the group, as well as a leasing agreement for space opposite the USC campus — where the nonprofit Entertainment Industry Development Corp. will conduct consortium-backed tests of d-cinema engineering standards.

Work also continues to pare down a long list of candidates vying for a CEO position at the consortium.

The group — tentatively dubbed Newco Digital Cinema – is expected to eventually discuss how it might help finance the rollout of d-cinema technology. But it’s unlikely that thorny issue will be addressed until much further down the road.

In the interim, execs on individual studio lots are crunching numbers on a variety of possible approaches to the funding question. Most of the schemes start with the premise that studios must help pay for the rollout, as distribs will enjoy the cost savings from d-cinema, not exhibs.

Downtown space

The studio consortium is taking USC-adjacent office space in downtown L.A. so its eventual staff of six will be in good proximity to tests the EIDC will perform in an effort to help craft a uniform set of d-cinema engineering standards. That work is expected to take 18-24 months.

No major consortium-backed rollout of d-cinema hardware is anticipated until then — though vendors will continue to do what they can to seed the exhibition market with d-cinema installations incrementally.

Currently, there are fewer than 100 d-cinema setups in operation worldwide. The early consensus among consortium members — which include all Hollywood majors except DreamWorks — is that d-cinema will be economically viable only after there’s a base in the thousands.

Ultimately, the aim is for an industrywide conversion to digital distribution and projection.

Challenges ahead

Still hampering a more aggressive conversion to d-cinema are a lack of uniform engineering standards and a feasible means of funding the rollout. Consortium members are confident they can come up with a solution to the former, but the latter is a bit stickier.

For one thing, there’s a continuing concern in some quarters that government regulators still may raise objections if the consortium turns from engineering collaborations to financing ones.

Some say regulators can be kept at bay through the hiring of a chief exec, as well as a chief technical officer eventually. Others warn that any financing plan involving a majority of Hollywood studios could run afoul of antitrust regs.

Alternately, one or more third parties could help organize financing of a portion of the digital rollout. D-cinema networkers Boeing Digital and Technicolor Digital are considered possible candidates to serve in such a role if necessary.

“We are ultimately a service provider to the industry,” Technicolor Digital prexy Ken Williams said Tuesday.

But anything beyond helping to spread and maintain an installed base of digital projectors will have to wait until the d-cinema playing field begins to take clearer shape, he added.

“With the studios directly assuming a leadership role in setting standards, we essentially want to synch up with their process and made our test bed of theaters available to them,” Williams said.