International Edition No. 21 - year 2 - 31 March 2007


The fact that the introduction of digital technology in cinemas is far more than a mere technical innovation is an opinion shared by professionals in the field. As a result, the level of interest of the exhibitors taking part in the course “DigiTraining Plus: New Technologies for European Cinemas”, now in its fourth day, is extremely keen with regard to “how”, i.e. the way in which the digital transition has started and will continue, as well as to the implications for the various links in the chain. Amongst the novelties that digital cinema has brought up to now, is the so-called “integrator”, i.e. a company acting as an “intermediary” in the relationship between exhibitor, distributor and equipment suppliers.
The figure comes into being in response to the need to find an economic balance in a situation that sees savings made mainly on the distribution side and investments on the part of exhibition. For the digital transition to come about, theatres must, in fact, fit themselves with new equipment at prices which, although falling, are nevertheless elevated. Two “integrators” working on the European market have brought their experience to the course. They are XDC, the Belgian company producing servers for digital cinemas, arising out of the EVS group, leader in live mobile digital video production systems, and Arts Alliance Media, with its headquarters in the United Kingdom. The former company can boast of experience based on the digitalization of over 300 screens in nine European countries, whilst the second is completing the installation of 240 screens constituting the Digital Screen Network, on behalf of the British Film Council.
Why should theatres that opt for digital turn to an “integrator”? For instance, to relieve themselves of the burden of choosing equipment that requires a high level of technical competence (the “integrator” tries out the various products and combines them to respond as well as possible to the specific needs of individual cinemas. In addition, he “wins” the best prices from suppliers, thanks to the purchase of large quantities). Moreover – and perhaps still more important – to delegate negotiations with the distributors to a third party, so that a part of the money saved thanks to the elimination of the 35mm prints (the so-called Virtual Print Fee) can be deposited in a “money-box” destined to finance the purchase of equipment. In return for these services – which include technical assistance and upgrading to the increasing technical demands – the cinemas agree to pay instalments for a given number of years, whilst the “integrator” buys the equipment at his own expense. “By using this formula – commented Gemma Richardson of Arts Alliance Media – digital cinema becomes easy”. “And the roll-out in Europe is very close – added Bernard Collard of XDC –. Soon exhibitors will have to come to an agreement with distributors about the financial contribution the latter will be willing to pay. Looking at what is going on in the United States and at the characteristics of a fragmented market like Europe’s, we have to consider that it will take more than one business model to cover all of Europe’s screens”.
During the course, which will end tomorrow, participants visited two cinemas equipped for digital projection: Imagix in Tournai and Kinepolis in Bruges, where they were able to evaluate the use of new technologies by watching digital screenings.

The façade of the Imagix Cinema in Tournai

The Kinepolis Cinema in Bruges

s, a project operating within the framework of the European Union's MEDIA Programme, with the support of the Italian Government, fosters theatrical distribution of European audiovisual products, both by high profile campaigns involving Europe's cinema exhibitors and by initiatives to raise the visibility of European productions with industry players and potential audiences, creating specialized information channels on a global scale. Thus the current initiatives from MEDIA Salles dovetail in a program with a triple focus – training, promotion and information – and maximum combined effect.

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