Movie Theater Conversion – A Quick Update

A couple articles ago, I mentioned that movie theaters were a dying breed because of their conversion from 35mm to digital projection.  I would like to give a couple updates on the subject.

Firstly, as I have found out, it was unfair to blame the theaters for their own demise.  The theater companies have actually been fighting the total conversion to digital projection for years.  To them, 35mm makes sense.  It’s cheap to run and cheap to maintain.  Digital projection, on the other hand, may be cheap to run, but not cheap to maintain, and certainly not cheap to update when the next rollout of projectors or projection methods swing around.  For example, The Hobbit, which is being filmed at 48fps instead of the conventional 24fps, would require software and firmware updates for almost every existing digital system.  The updates, of course, will cost the theaters money to perform.  Otherwise, theaters will be stuck running the film at 24fps.  With most theaters unable to showcase the film on the format it was intended to be shown, the filmmakers might ask themselves “what was the point?”

But overall, theatrical exhibition, especially for the small theaters, is cheaper and easier to do on 35mm.  The movie studios, however, are another story.  To the studios, it is cheaper and easier to distribute digitally.  So, of course that is the method they will soon take.  The studios have began sending letters to the theater companies saying “sink or swim.”  To read more about that, click here.

The result of this?  Small theaters will, for the most part, die out.  Maybe even most of the smaller theater buildings that are owned by the large companies too.  It will be an industry dominated by large theaters, but we will have fewer of them.  This is a little scary.  The public may prove in time that they are simply less willing to take a slightly longer drive to get to the nearest theater.  In addition, if there are less average screens in any given area, films will either have to have slightly shorter runs or a film’s release will be much more spotted geographically speaking.  These implications could very well be felt all the way up the line to the filmmakers themselves as it becomes harder to find a distributor willing to take a limited release indie film, for example.


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