Magazine article Variety

India Pix Face Digital Divide

Magazine article Variety

India Pix Face Digital Divide

Article excerpt

MUMBAI

While nearly two-thirds of all movie screens in the U.S. and more than half in Europe and in India have converted to digital, the subcontinent's sheer size, diversity and nonstandardized technologies have made the conversion process here more complex than in some Western territories.

It's not that India's bizzers aren't enthusiastic about digital conversion, it's that they face, among other things, a dual digital standard driven by cost.

Older, lower-cost e-cinema systems project films at HDTV resolution, while the newer, DCIcompliant d-cinema projectors deliver the Digital Cinema Initiative standard developed by U.S. studios to ensure high-quality, high-resolution digital projection of Hollywood product.

It costs approximately $80,000 to convert a theater to d-cinema (e-cinema conversion runs just $20,000), and the DCI-compliant projectors are more expensive to operate and maintain.

"Cost is a definite barrier in the growth of d-cinema," says Anil Arjun, chief exec of Reliance MediaWorks, which operates Big Cinemas, India's leading exhibitor. "Digital projectors use twice as much energy and require larger lamps for projection that burn out quicker."

Of Big's 260 screens, 1 17 are digital. Of these, just 47 are DCI-compliant. That's in part a reflection of the success of Bollywood. Hollywood's market share of India's box office is only 10%. Much of the rest of the market is devoted to local product. And screens that show mostly Bollywood films can get by without projectors that conform to the pricier Hollywood standards.

Exhibitor Cinemax, which has 58 DCI-compliant screens, touts a dual strategy. "On all new projects, wearel00%DCI-complaint," says Sunil Punjabi, the chain's CEO. "On the existing Cinemax locations, we have converted some of the screens to DCI."

Many cinemas, including the vast majority of single screens, are using lowerstandard, e-cinema projection, which has long been prominent in India Some, however, can't afford even that.

Bollywood distributor Rajesh Thadani feels that for single screens, box office receipts don't justify the cost of installing any digital system, much less DCI. Nonetheless, he estimates that these theaters will be forced to go digital or close down in the near future, due to the decreasing availability of film prints.

But as the virtual print fee developed in the U.S. as a way for exhibs and distribs to jointly fund the adoption of digital, a pair of Indian companies are affording smaller exhibs a third option. …

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