Exhibs, studios bridge digital divide

Sides agree on 'virtual' print fees for 3-D's sake

After a long stalemate, the country’s three largest theater chains will begin installing digital screens —needed to play 3-D titles — en masse after reaching agreement with five studios on “virtual” print fees.

Studios are Disney, Lionsgate, Paramount, 20th Century Fox and Universal. Pact, set to be announced today, was inked with Digital Cinema Implementation Partners, a consortium repping AMC Entertainment, Cinemark and Regal Cinemas.

News comes none too soon, considering there are a dozen 3-D titles set for release next year. As of now, there aren’t enough digital 3-D screens to fully support so much product.

DCIP needed the studio deals in order to access a $1 billion line of credit arranged earlier this year through JPMorgan Securities. Loan money will be used to install 20,000 digital screens — the lion’s share of the 37,000 screens in North America.

Sony is said to be in the process of finalizing its deal with DCIP.

As long as the three big chains stood on the sidelines, the rollout of digital cinema was stymied.

DCIP and studios have been talking for months, with plenty of finger-pointing on either side.

Exhibs argued that they shouldn’t bear the full financial burden of converting conventional screens to digital.

The virtual print fees are designed to defray the majority of the conversion cost.