Canning Films Pacific Bell to Test Movie Delivery to Theaters over Telephone Lines

Article excerpt

Movie theaters soon may leave the reel world behind.

Pacific Bell announced Monday at the National Association of Broadcasters Show that it will begin to test the transmission of movies to theaters on fiber optic telephone networks, eliminating the costly physical copying and distribution of movie prints.

Digital transmission by phone lines also could convert movie theaters into arenas for live viewing of sports, musical performances, news events and business conferences.

"It's the mustard seed," said Dale Cripps, editor and publisher of Electronic Cinema Letter in Alsea, Ore. "This is proof of concept that electronic distribution of motion pictures not only can be cheaper, better, faster," but will make the theater a destination for other programming as well.

The test will begin in summer and will involve an AMC Theater in Burbank, Calif., and one screen in San Francisco. Although the test may last only six months, it may be years before the replacement of films by electronically transmitted digits is widespread.

"The question is how willing Hollywood will be to change," said Richard A. Mizer, technical manager for advanced video services for Pacific Bell. "They've been doing it their way for a hundred years."

As of Friday, Pacific Bell, for instance, had not signed up any major Hollywood studio to supply movies for the test. Mizer said he was hopeful that Sony Pictures, which was involved in two demonstrations of the basic technology, would participate.

But the various studios ultimately would have to settle on technical standards for creation and transmission of the digital movies - a daunting challenge. Beyond that, the studios generally are run by executives who want to maximize the appeal of the product and are set in their ways.

"Is Hollywood interested in changing? The answer is seldom," Cripps said.

The new technology should make the quality issue as forgotten as the kinescope, advocates say. With digital transmission, each copy will be as good as the original, said Howard Gunn, vice president of marketing for Alcatel Network Systems of Dallas, the company supplying the switching, scheduling and archiving equipment for the test.

As with compact discs, there is no degradation of sound or pictures over time. …