Europe plans for digital conversion

European Commission unveils three options

BRUSSELS — The European Commission has unveiled three options for ways to help European cinemas convert to digital projection. A decision will be made at the end of July.

All three options will require a commitment from exhibitors to screen a minimum number of non-national European films.

Target cinemas are those outside existing economic models for conversion. This is tailored to suit multiplexes with high film turn-over, or without access to government subsidies.

One option involves converting the digital cinema bonus offered by the Europa Cinemas network into a subsidy awarded in advance.

“This is the simplest option,” said Hughes Becquart, the official overseeing the project, at the European Cinema Summit on Thursday. “Europa Cinemas already exists, we co-finance it, and they know the majority of the cinemas that interest us.”

The commitment to European content required to join this network would be lowered for the advance subsidy, he added, to broaden the offer.

A more ambitious option would be to establish an intermediary organization that would equip and service selected eligible theaters. Plans are still sketchy, but giving the job to an existing digital cinema integrator is ruled out since it would distort the market.

A final option is for the EU to help set up a favorable line of finance for cinemas converting to digital.

In July, national reps overseeing the Commission’s Media program will be asked to choose one or more options and set a budget. This is likely to be Euros 5 million-Euros 10 million ($7 million-$14 million) a year, from 2010 to 2013.

A broader strategy on digital cinema in Europe will be published by the Commission later in the year. Topics will include clearer guidance on state subsidies for digital conversion and how to encourage European producers to make digital masters.