U.K. maps niche net

Film Council contracts for cinema upgrades

LONDON — The U.K. Film Council has selected digital cinema services outfit Arts Alliance Digital Cinema to install and maintain the world’s largest digital screen network in Blighty.

AADC beat out rumored competitors British Telecom, NTL and IBM to secure the £11.5 million ($22 million) contract from the council.

The ambitious project is the cornerstone of the Film Council distribution and exhibition department’s $34 million project to increase audience access to niche titles. As part of the deal, the Film Council has stipulated that in return for the equipment and after-care, the cinemas must reserve a number of slots per week for such pics.

Providing the public with greater access to arthouse and foreign-lingo fare is a priority for the Film Council. Pete Buckingham, the org’s distrib and exhib chief, commented, “Although a genuine variety of films is available in central London and a few other metropolitan areas, the choice for many outside these areas remains limited, and the digital screen network will improve access for audiences across the U.K.”

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Under the venture, 90% of the U.K. will be covered including chronically under-served regions such as East Anglia.

While Buckingham concedes that accessing auds in remote areas is a major priority, he was quick to reassure the industry that the existing arthouse market will retain government support.

The 320 cinemas bidding for a swanky digital makeover will learn their fate in May, and AADC will kick off the installation rollout in the fall. The venture has pledged to complete all installations 18 months from that time allowing the network to be fully operational in less than two years. Postinstallation, the upgraded cinemas will benefit from staff training, servicing, warranties and upgrades for a period of four years.

AADC is part of venture capital firm Arts Alliance Media, which owns a majority stake in the City Screen circuit, the U.K.’s biggest exhib specializing in indie fare.

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