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3-D rollout at movie theater chains gets a boost -- finally

September 17, 2009 |  9:45 am

Hollywood's 3-D bottleneck may be nearing an end. That was the upbeat assessment among studio executives, vendors and exhibitors who on Wednesday attended a "3-D Entertainment Summit" at the Hilton Los Angeles in Universal City.

Many conference participants were heartened after JPMorgan Chase & Co. announced late last week that it was moving ahead with plans to secure $525 million in financing to retrofit up to 15,000 screens for digital technology over the next five years at AMC, Cinemark and Regal, the nation's largest theater chains.

The rollout had been originally scheduled to start last year but was held up by the credit crunch, causing a shortage of 3-D screens (which require digital installations) at a time when movie studios were gearing up to release a slew of high-profile 3-D movies. The delay in digital rollout has been a source of friction between theater chains and movie studios.

To date there are only 2,700 3-D screens in North America, limiting the potential returns that studios can reap from the higher ticket prices from 3-D releases (moviegoers typically must pay an extra $3 to see 3-D films). With the new financing, that number is expected to grow by 4,000 by the of the year, or nearly 10% of all screens in North America.

Dan Huerta, vice president of technology and systems for AMC, said he was "thrilled" by the news, citing high returns generated from 3-D viewings of movies like Lionsgate's "My Bloody Valentine" and "Monsters vs. Aliens" from DreamWorks Animation SKG.

"With attendance flat or on the decline, 3-D has been just a boon for us,'' he said.

Still, some were skeptical about how soon the promised financing would actually kick in.

"I have a lot of scars waiting for this to happen, so I'll believe it when I see it,'' Lars Munson, a partner in the hedge fund Manatuck Hill Partners (an investor in giant-size movie screen company Imax), quipped during a panel discussion.

-- Richard Verrier

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