Five Hollywood studios have agreed to help pay for a $1 billion-plus rollout of digital technology on about 20,000 movie screens in North America, a precursor to showing movies in 3-D.
Digital Cinema Implementation Partners, a consortium of major theater chains, announced the deal Wednesday. The rollout in the U.S. and Canada, covering about half of all screens, is planned to start early next year.
To help offset the costs - about $70,000 per screen - the studios plan to pay the consortium slightly under $1,000 per movie per screen, roughly the same amount it costs them to print and ship a celluloid film copy.
Adding digital equipment is the critical first step in the technological upgrade to being able to show 3-D movies.
More than 20 3-D movies are set to hit theaters through 2010, but only 873 locations in the U.S. and Canada, with 1,264 3-D screens, are available now, according to The Walt Disney Co., a signatory to the digital rollout.
Disney plans to release five 3-D movies next year, including a Jonas Brothers concert movie in February.
The digital expansion will help convert more screens to show 3-D movies, which have packed theaters and commanded higher ticket prices than their 2-D counterparts.
“It should ultimately improve the grosses,” said Chuck Viane, president of domestic distribution for Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures. “People will just fall in love with the medium.”
Viane expected 1,500 to 2,000 locations, many with multiple screens, would be able to show 3-D movies by the end of 2009.