Testing the future
Lene Løken, managing director FILM&KINO

Exhibitors all over Europe are discussing Digital Cinema. What will the future for the film exhibition industry be? What will the costs for the exhibitors be? What sort of commercial opportunities are there? The questions are unlimited.

In Norway we have decided to run a test. Two digital projects with 22 DCI-compliant screens were established back in 2006. They were followed by 12 more screens in 2007. Each of the two projects is organized as a consortium, Nordic Digital Alliance (NDA) and NORDIC. The two companies Arts Alliance Media (NDA) and Unique Digital (NORDIC) are central partners. The projects are supported and evaluated by FILM&KINO, the national cinema owners organization.

These pilot projects are testing:

• technical issues, such as interoperability, automation, functionality and moving of equipment;
• organizational issues: how can the bigger cinemas in a region support the smaller ones?
• workflow issues: how does the process from distributor to cinema function?
• digitizing of multiplexes: how will the programming function and what about alternative content and revenue?

FILM&KINO is planning the future digitization of Norwegian cinemas. We support and evaluate these pilot projects in order to develop a knowledge we think will be necessary in the future. The more we learn about managing a digital cinema, the better we will be able to carry out the big project which is to digitize all the Norwegian cinemas within one and the same process.

Norway is a small country with a scattered population of only 4.6 million inhabitants. We have 229 cinemas with 426 screens and a travelling cinema with 236 sites. Most of the cinemas are small, due to the population in rural areas, and they are owned by the municipalities. They will never have a chance to be digitized the commercial way. But they are, on the other hand, very important to their communities. Small Norwegian cinemas often have a function also as a community house. We generally call them cultural houses and they are in fact a meeting place for the local people.

Due to the importance of the small Norwegian cinemas there has been political willingness to support the digitization process. The National Assembly (Stortinget) has allowed the use of a fund, managed by FILM&KINO and based on a fee on cinema tickets and DVDs, to finance part of the digitization of the Norwegian cinemas. The supposition is that the distributors take their part as they would have done through a VPF (Virtual Print Fee) in a commercial system.

We are negotiating the terms with the studios in Hollywood and planning for a roll-out starting in 2009. There are still lots of questions to be solved and I think we have a long way to go. But in the meantime we are testing out the future through two pilot projects which have already shown themselves to be of great value.