Studios Will Stop Distributing Conventional Film Prints Here By End Of 2013: Report

Time is running out for theaters that haven’t made the switch to digital projection. Studios’ use of conventional 35 mm prints “is projected to cease in the United States and other major markets by the end of next year, with global cutoff likely to happen by the end of 2015,” according to the latest IHS Screen Digest Cinema Intelligence Service report. There’s still a ways to go: The firm says that 51.5% of worldwide screens had digital projectors at the end of 2011, an increase of 82% from 2010. But IHS notes that soon it won’t be sufficient to have a digital projector. Director Peter Jackson is lobbying for theater owners pay for the software upgrade needed to show his upcoming The Hobbit films at 48 frames a second. That’s the speed at which he’s shooting the movies, up from the conventional 24 frames. At the end of 2011 about 50,000 of the world’s 63,825 digital screens, including 19,000 in the U.S., would be capable of being upgraded. Theaters with Series 2 DLP and Sony projectors will be able to accommodate Jackson. Pressure to upgrade won’t abate after The Hobbit. James Cameron plans to shoot his follow-ups to Avatar at 60 frames a second. (Incidently, IHS’ figure on the worldwide total of digital venues is slightly higher than the 2011 tally from the MPAA, which counted 62,684, of which 44% were in the U.S. and Canada.)

For the most part the IHS report covers the ground we explored at April’s CinemaCon. But it has some interesting factoids regarding the transition from celluloid to digital prints. The firm says that at one point distributors used 13B feet of film a year, equal to five trips to the moon and back. By 2010, though, film usage was down to about 5B feet. One big reason for the shift: The price of silver, heavily used in film processing, soared from $5 an ounce to about $25 this year. The heat is on for all theaters to switch to digital projection.

Comments (41)

  • Oh dear. People are going to FREAK when they see the “daytime soap look” of the higher frame rate.

    Comment by Magnitude — Friday June 8, 2012 @ 4:47pm EDT  
  • Depressing.

    So now there is TRULY no reason to go to the cinema.

    Comment by Tradition! — Friday June 8, 2012 @ 5:22pm EDT  
    • That’s right, Tradition! Soon you will no longer have anywhere available for you to pay and see dirty, scratched, worn film prints. The cinema experience is not complete without frame jumps and ghosted images from a fifty year old projector scratching the film further…

      Comment by bbp55 — Friday June 8, 2012 @ 6:26pm EDT  
      • Do you really believe that digital is without problems? I was just at a theater where the showing had to be cancelled because the projector blew a board. The second time it’s happened to me this year. At least a crappy print will get past a bad patch, and can be repaired by a projectionist with a high school education. Remember, cinema is a technology that’s lasted 100 years — for good reason. It’s reliable.

        Comment by Lars — Friday June 8, 2012 @ 7:04pm EDT  
        • I know first hand it has problems. You’re right–a crappy print can get a crappy fix and you can still watch it without much delay. But that’s the point: it’s still a crappy print. I have had to cancel about the same amount of shows in digital houses as 35mm. But I have presented thousands of showings of movies deep into their run that look perfect in digital when the film print would have been in terrible condition.

          My main objection is to the idea that somehow there is a magical “depth of color” on film that cannot be replicated by digital. That may have been true in 1997; it is not the case now.

          Comment by bbp55 — Saturday June 9, 2012 @ 3:39pm EDT  
          • Not true. Films look is far superior and digital presentation will never ba able to match what film can do, not now, not ever.Also, film effects the subconcience in a way that digital will never be able to do, in turn effecting the way audiences perceive the story.

            Comment by KC — Sunday June 10, 2012 @ 1:06am EDT  
      • Ummmm, ahhh…yawn…suddenly I feel so sleepy…

        Comment by TW — Sunday June 10, 2012 @ 12:53pm EDT  
  • “Director Peter Jackson is lobbying for theater owners pay for the software upgrade” LOL….good luck with that. I gonna love it when Peter Jackson’s 60fps ego trip flops.

    Comment by Greg — Friday June 8, 2012 @ 5:29pm EDT  
    • I had no idea Peter Jackson controlled worldwide cinema. I thought James Cameron controlled worldwide cinema.

      Comment by Zafnafel — Friday June 8, 2012 @ 10:36pm EDT  
  • Today’s properly set up digital projectors have better sound and picture than most of us have ever seen. The modern digital picture reminds me of the way 70 mm presentations were at the movie palaces of old. I agree that the higher frame rate looks like daytime TV.

    Comment by dan — Friday June 8, 2012 @ 5:39pm EDT  
    • Today’s properly set up FILM projectors have better sound and picture than most of us have ever seen. Anyone that thinks dirt, scratches and splices are part of the film experience have been going to the wrong theatres. And as for my 50-year old projector, it will still be running like a top ten years from now after today’s digital projectors have all littered the scrapyard. I’m not against digital cinema – it’s here to stay. But it has far less to do with improving the movie going experience than it does about increasing profits for the “film” distributors.

      Comment by Tim OBrien — Saturday June 9, 2012 @ 3:07pm EDT  
      • I think the reels for a 35mm movie cost about $1000 each. The digital copies are far cheaper. It is incredible how long the 35mm projector stayed in use. I guess about a century. Not too many items in your home or office have changed as little as the motion picture projector.

        Comment by Marco Bocce — Sunday June 10, 2012 @ 2:28pm EDT  
  • “35″mm fading out… (sigh)

    Comment by Frediani — Friday June 8, 2012 @ 5:45pm EDT  
  • Christopher Nolan says film looks better. I agree. Very sad.

    Comment by burkiss — Friday June 8, 2012 @ 6:00pm EDT  
    • Nolan was talking about shooting on film, not necessarily exhibition.

      Comment by Anonymous — Friday June 8, 2012 @ 7:26pm EDT  
  • The higher frame rate does indeed produce a noticeable soap-opera style effect. It is not a pleasant effect. It is annoying and distracting. Some people won’t notice (because they don’t go to the movies much, or they just don’t care) but a lot of people will, and I can’t imagine they will be happy. Peter Jackson is using this as a gimmick to promote his movie but it has the potential to become an annoying and expensive folly. Remember all those awful 3d post conversions? Imagine what a high frame rate will look like in the hands of directors who are less tech savvy and meticulous than Peter Jackson and James Cameron. It’s gonna be a disaster.

    Comment by oneofus — Friday June 8, 2012 @ 6:02pm EDT  
    • “Directors who are less tech savvy” or directors with less resources and money to work with?

      Comment by Lars — Friday June 8, 2012 @ 7:06pm EDT  
  • I doubt if 48 or 60 frames-per-second will amount to anything. Most people will not see anything better, and as others pointed out, there’s no great incentive for theatres to pay for this “upgrade”. Theatre chains can spend their money better by upgrading their other theatres to digital first, then we’ll see. I’d like to see more of the reperatory classic films converted to DCP so that when the changeover is done, we can still see those great classic films on the big screen. Sony has already done a great job by making DCP’s available on Taxi Driver, Das Boot, etc. I recently saw Duck Soup projected on a giant screen with a DCP and it blew me away. A 1933 picture never looked so good. I’m a film guy from way back, but digital projection properly done is superb.

    Comment by Jack M — Friday June 8, 2012 @ 7:49pm EDT  
  • Chris Nolan did not like his films shown digitally, it wasn’t just about film being better to shoot on.

    Comment by Saul — Friday June 8, 2012 @ 8:35pm EDT  
  • Welp, looks like all you lucky assholes with “Film” degrees now know what it was like for all those saps with a “B.A. in Telecommunications.”

    Comment by HARHAR — Friday June 8, 2012 @ 9:22pm EDT  
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