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Paramount deal paves digital cinema roll-out

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Hollywood studio Paramount Pictures announced a direct-to-exhibitors digital movie deal on Thursday in what it claimed marked an industry first.

The move, which applies only to the US and Canada, is designed to speed the roll-out of digital and 3-D projection systems in cinema theatres. Instead of working through integrators and leasing kit, exhibitors gain a way to finance digital cinema systems locally, rather than waiting for comprehensive integrator agreements, which require a large stake of up-front cash, to go through.

In addition, as a statement by Paramount explains, the agreement allows exhibitors to own and control their equipment. Paramount is partnering with organisations such as DCIP (Digital Cinema Implementation Partners), Cinedigm, Kodak, and Sony in introducing 21st century digital technology as a replacement for celluloid.

To date, Paramount has signed nine digital cinema integration deals - four in the US, three in Europe and two in Asia. More than 3,500 screens have been converted to digital under phase one of Cinedigm's roll-out plans, Paramount adds.

Paramount, owned by media conglomerate Viacom, has in common with other Hollywood studios a clear financial interest in pushing the adoption of digital technologies, which get around the financial and logistical nightmare of producing and distributing movie reels.

A single film print can cost more than $1,000. Converting theaters to digital can cost $150,000 per screen but offers greater flexibility. Digital media playback of hi-resolution files has been technically possible for 20 years or more but it's only as the price of bandwidth and storage fall that the idea has become financially attractive. At the same time the capabilities of the technology has increased, winning over cinema goers, and making innovations such as 3-D screenings more widely available. ®

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