Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Movies Drop Film for Distribution; Farewell, Drive-Ins

You knew it was coming eventually. Media content is increasingly created and distributed digitally, and the economics of distributing and displaying movies on film are extremely expensive.  It was only a matter of waiting for projection and display technology to get to the point where it could replace standard 35mm film in terms of display quality and cost.
  Making a copy of a movie for theatrical display is very expensive.  A single print copy costs around $2000, and transport to and from the theater can add hundreds more.  If the film is successful, prints often need replacing every few weeks as they can be damaged in the projector (scratches, breaks, burns, etc.)  Wide release of major movies can easily rack up millions of dollars in distribution costs.  In contrast, digital copies are perfect and not damaged by display, and online digital distribution costs can be miniscule - even distribution by physical media would likely run well under $100 per copy.
  The focus on digital image has also led to cinema sound upping its game, and there has been a shake-up in this sector in the last year. Immersive or 3D sound is now a reality, with competition between companies and technologies fuelling an exciting sea change in cinema sound systems after two decades of relative stability
  We're at the point now where digital projectors can match or exceed 35 millimeter film projector quality, and at a cost similar to a new commercial 35-millimeter projector ($50-75 thousand).  A typical full digital conversion (digital projected and digital audio conversion for the improved surround sound standards) costs about $65-75 thousand.  At that price, major chains and theater groups have been adding digital projection systems to their projection booths over the last few years, and phasing out the old film projectors as movie distributors started offering digital distribution options.  By the end of 2012, about three-quarters of all movie screens around the world were equipped for digital display.  And about half of those can also display 3-D digital films.  In January, 2012, more movies were distributed and displayed digitally than were done via 35 millimeter filmstock.

  So now it's official - the major U.S. studios have announced that they will go all-digital for distribution by the end of the year.  Distribution on film won't even be offered as an expensive option.
"It’s hard to put so many decades of change in perspective,” said Kurt Wanamaker, a local theater historian. “It is like the transition of audio from tape to CDs to digital. People want better sound and better picture. It’s forced evolution.
"In my lifetime, theaters have moved from showing three or four movies in one showing, to elaborate digital sound from every corner,” Wanamaker said. “Everything is constantly changing and evolving and consumers are demanding the latest technology.”

  Which leaves those small theaters who have yet to convert in a tough position.  Many, including the lion's share of older rural town theaters and drive-in movie theaters, are locally owned and don't generate the revenues needed to finance converting to digital.  A story in the L.A. Times estimated that 90% of the remaining 368 drive-ins haven't converted; mostly because they couldn't afford to.  That's led some communities and aficionados to launch fundraising drives to help local theaters and drive-ins make the transition.  Some have been successful, but many haven't been.

  But perhaps the biggest question in the shift to digital cinema is this:
Can we still call them films?

Sources -  Coming Soon: The Summer When You're Expected to Save Drive-in Movie TheatersTime
Requiem for a Medium,  CityPulse
The King is dead, long live the King! The digital revolution brings exciting opportunities, Film Journal


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    Film distribution

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. Well, there's that. The next issue of concern now is how to deal with the girth of data that this transition will incur. That is about the point we stop talking about traditions and practices for a while and start looking into storage and backup.

    Ruby Badcoe