February 10, 2008

Digital Projection: Foundation of a New Exhibition System in the UK?

Digital Projection: Foundation of a New Exhibition System in the UK?

Digital Cinema Montage


The world of films is changing dramatically as the installation of digital technologies develops. In the future the term film will become a term of historical sentiment rather than an existing object. Many European countries are promoting the development of these technologies such as the UK Film Council. Getting the digital strategy right from the outset has been a concern fo rht major Hollywood studios. Competing systems could mean that take-up i slow until a standard is established. As this BBC story shows thet were anxious to avoid that risk: 

Wednesday, 3 April, 2002, 14:32 GMT 15:32 UK

Studios unite for digital standard
Digital films
Films could be sent by satellite
Seven major movie studios in the US are to establish technical standards for the development of digital cinema, in a rare joint venture.

The aim of the as-yet-untitled project will be to set the agenda so that rival digital projectors, software and distribution will use a universal language.

Digital Cinema in the UK 

The UK Film Council make it very clear how important they thin it is to change to digital projection systems and point out that it could change cinema-going behaviour considerably. Below is an extract from thier strategy document for 2007-2010:

Film in the digital age

UK Film Council policy and funding priorities

April 2007 – March 2010

In the digital age, UK film has the
potential to flourish as never before.
Digital technology is starting to transform
the way in which film and moving images
are financed, produced, distributed and
consumed. Many of the historical barriers
which have made it difficult for audiences
to gain access to a wider range of film are
beginning to tumble. The UK Film Council
recognises that it needs to take a lead.
With the help of our strategic partners,
we intend to act as a strong advocate
for change by putting in place policies
and funding measures which encourage
and support innovation.

Digital Projector

The latest leap forward in cinema projection systems is the reality that ‘films’ can be digitally downloaded onto servers at a cinema. This has several advantages for the distributors and exhibitors.

There is a huge potential saving in the costs of prints, and profit margins are potentially greater. The film can be released on a global basis by being transmitted digitally via satellite in an encoded form which is to military specifications. This reduces the impact of piracy. From the perspective of the exhibitor it allows more flexibility in terms of screenings. The number of screenings can be locally managed according to local demand especially if co-ordinated with the pre-booking systems. The number of screenings can then be increased or reduced. There is no need to be reliant upon the number of prints in circulation. Each screening would be paid for on the equivalent of a ‘just in time basis’.

Fifteen million pounds of capital funding has been delegated to the UK Film Council by the Arts Council of England, which is allocated as follows:

Digital Screen Network

The largest proportion has been used to create a network of screens dedicated to the exhibition of specialised films in locations across the UK where there is no such provision currently.

The UK Digital Screen Network how the (Film distribution Association) FDA see it

FDA welcomes and supports an initiative by the UK Film Council, to invest up to £13 million of National Lottery funds in what will become the world's first digital screen network, placing the UK at the forefront of D-cinema.

It is planned that up to 200 screens in 150 cinemas across the UK - a quarter of the total - will be equipped with digital projectors. In return, cinemas will be asked by the Film Council to show a broader range of specialised (non-blockbuster) films such as documentaries or foreign language titles on a regular basis.

Hopefully, such a substantial investment will help the hardware costs to fall, which in turn could facilitate extra installations.

How the Digital Cinema Chain Will look  

You will notice on this model from the European Digital Cinema Forum that a live event venue is included in the possibilities for digital uplinks to satellite. Large sporting events are increasingly likely to be viewed in cinemas forget Sky down the Pub!

Digital Business Model

History of Projection Systems 

It is still important to know a little of the history of the technological development of film as a material as well as matters of projection and the types of projectors that have been used and are being used now which depend upon the physicality of film.

A useful web site which gives some historical and practical information is the Goethe Institute website which is linked to the possibility of exhibiting actual films. An excellent site with many contributors of international standing is the Victorian Cinema site. There is a mass of information on projection machinery as well as a general fund of knowledge on many aspects of early cinema.

Inside Digital Projection

Anatomy of Digital film Projector

The images projected onto the screen from the projector, are formed from the projection source using a reflective technology called Digital Light Processing (DLP)

Arts Alliance Media  List of Advantages of Digital Projection 

Digital prints are delivered to cinemas on hard drives, and the content is then loaded onto a server. This has two advantages:

    • The central server can hold many films, meaning that films can be changed more easily (so, among other benefits, one-off bookings are easier).
    • The prints don’t need to be returned after the run, so holding over successful films is always possible.

    Different versions of a film can be easily sent and managed:

      • Subtitled/dubbed versions
      • Hearing-impaired versions
      • In the future, different cuts of films can also be used

      Micro markets can be served – giving the audience more of what they want, for example:

        • Bollywood films can be played in areas of high demand
        • Special themed events can be held – i.e. showing of restored Casablanca for Valentines Day.
        • Special seasons – i.e. late night horror screenings
        • Mother and Baby screenings – appropriate films can be played during traditionally quiet times (such as weekday mornings)

        Sharing the costs of Installation

        The costs of installing new projection equipment can be prohibitive a system called the Virtual Print Fee model is a popular method of persuading cinemas to invest in this equipment below is the explanation from the Arts alliance Media site about how it works. Please note that it specifically mentions Hollywood Studios. This could mean that more independently inclined and less Hollywood driven Cinemas are disadvantaged.

        What is the VPF (Virtual Print Fee) Model?

        The big question over digital cinema is who is going to pay for it? One proposed solution is what is known as the Virtual Print Fee model – which involves both exhibitors and distributors contributing towards the cost of the equipment.

        The way it works is:

        • A third party pays up front for the digital equipment.
        • Distributors and exhibitors pay over time to recoup the cost.
        • Exhibitors sign up to agreed service & maintenance commitments, as well as paying a ‘usage fee’ to cover cost of lease.
        • Distributors save money every time a digital (rather than 35mm) print is shipped, therefore;
        • Every time a digital print is shipped, distributors pay a Virtual Print Fee towards recoupment of equipment. Approximately 80% of costs will be paid for by Hollywood studios.
        • When cost is recouped, the cinema will own the equipment.

        For more information on the VPF model, and how it works, click here to read our FAQ

        How the Film Distributor's Association See It

        Now the cinema industry stands on the threshold of a great, rolling transition from celluloid to digital, which is expected to receive a big boost in early 2005 and then gather momentum over the decade ahead. In time, digital technologies are likely to exert as profound an impact on the cinema sector as on the broadcast and other media sectors.

        Digital or D-cinema has already been piloted in the UK for ten years. Disney/Pixar's Toy Story was supplied and presented digitally (on a Texas Instruments DLP prototype) at London's Odeon, Leicester Square, in 1995. But only a handful of cinemas have had digital projectors whilst further quality advances were achieved. Now, with D-cinema giving state-of-the-art clarity on screen, audiences may be unaware that they are watching a digital, as opposed to a film, presentation.

        The UK is one of the most expensive markets in the world in which to release a film. FDA members spend approximately £125m a year on prints, duplicated in high-tech laboratories. A digitally produced or converted film could be delivered quickly and reliably via disc (a much smaller, cheaper physical medium than a 35mm print), fibre optic cable or satellite - triggering a huge systems change for the whole industry.


        It is clear that the gradual roll out of digital cinema over the next few years provides a number of opportunities for quite different screen experiences in Cinemas. Live events can be viewed in on a huge screen bringing a far better sense of spectacle. By the same token it should be far simpler and cheaper for independent cinemas to have a flexible and varigated programme of new films for quite small audiences. Both these tendencies should revive cinema audiences in the UK which have become increasingly dependent upon the 14-27 year old market along with a few family type blockbusters.  


        Arts Alliance Media Digital Cinema Projection systems details 

        BBC September 2002 on Minister Kim Howells welcoming the early digital projection initiative

        BBC on the 2005 news of establishing a UK Digital Projection Network  

        CNet 2005 on introduction of digital projection technology

        CNet 7 March 2007 on US  film studio coperation over installation of digital projection

        Comparative Report on the penetration of digital screens in the US compared to other regions 

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