BUENOS AIRES — The deployment of digital cinema and digital 3-D in Latin America lags far behind that in Europe and North America.

The total number of digital screens expected by the end of this year is 229; by the end of 2009, the number should rise to 450. Only 20-30 of these digital screens are expected to be 3-D ready within a year, up from roughly a dozen now.

That’s out of about 7,000 screens in the region: roughly 3,000 in Mexico and 4,000 spread among Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Chile, Paraguay, Uruguay and Venezuela.

Argentina, for example, has 1,000 screens. A typical wide release plays on some 150 of those, so it would take around 300 digital 3-D screens to accommodate two 3-D tentpoles at the same time. With the majors planning a run of 3-D tentpoles in 2009, including “Monsters vs. Aliens,” “Up” and “Ice Age 3-D,” the 3-D screen shortage could prove dramatic in Argentina and other, similar territories.

Yet there is plenty of enthusiasm for d-cinema and 3-D in Latin America, and that is spurring action. Deals have been signed that will boost the number of d-cinema installations in the region to more than 500 by 2010, and, in the meantime, exhibitors are getting creative to overcome the big barrier of installation costs.

“Most of the big exhibitors have one or two 3-D digital screens at prominent theaters,” says Gabriel Giandinoto, the business development manager for South America at Rain Network, a Sao Paulo-based digital distribution system. “The decision has been made to take on another project.”

To recoup their big investment in d-cinema systems, exhibs in Argentina and Chile have enlisted corporations in screen sponsorship deals. The sponsors can stir up brand buzz with the association to the latest in technological trends. And theater owners can raise the coin to pay for the $200,000-plus digital projectors.

Cinemark has signed up Coca-Cola Co. to sponsor its first 3-D screen in Buenos Aires, while Hoyts General Cinema has cell phone operator Movistar aboard for a screen in Santiago and Mexican telco giant Telmex for Buenos Aires.

“This helps to pay the costs of bringing the projector, sound and screen to Argentina,” says Cinemark Argentina marketing manager Andrea Pica.

The deals also bring corporate marketing muscle for generating “more traffic for our 3-D theater,” says Laura Najlis, Hoyts’ marketing manager in Argentina.

Exhibs, too, are looking for ways to squeeze more revenue out of the investment in 3-D digital screens, such as by offering more content.

Rain Network, for one, is offering content and cinema-on-demand to exhibitors, making it possible for them to schedule other digital products, such as indie films, to maximize attendance at digital screens and recover investment quicker, Giandinoto says.

For instance, if a 3-D offering has a narrow target audience, such as 8- to 14-year-old girls, as in the case for Disney’s “Hannah Montana/Miley Cyrus: Best of Both Worlds Concert Tour,” exhibs can offer other content when attendance is low at night, he says.

The content can be offered on demand or when a group selects a pic to watch at a certain time, usually at least a week in advance.

The benefit is higher theater occupancy rates, as cinema-on-demand is pulling average rates of 40%-50% compared with 20%-30% for commercial releases, Giandinoto says.

What: ShowEast 2008
When: Monday-Thursday
Where: Orlando World Center Marriott, Orlando, Fla.
Web: www.showeast.com