Those days could be ending, say representatives of Universal Pictures, Warner Bros. Entertainment and a company called Digital Cinema Implementation Partners.
The three are working on a new digital film delivery system that, if successful, could give theater operators the flexibility to put a popular movie on an extra screen as quickly as the demand for it arises. At the same time, theater operators could boot out a surprise stinker and even book in for a day or two an art-house film with a small but devoted audience.
"Our goal really is to have the easiest, fastest, most reliable, most cost-effective content delivery technique possible to the theaters we represent," said Travis Reid, Chief Executive of Digital Cinema Implementation Partners, which is working with Warner Bros. and Universal.
The process, still in the early stages of development, would use satellite and broadband delivery systems to beam digital films directly to theaters, rather than have them copied onto hard drives and delivered by hand, as for the most part they are now, said Darcy Antonellis, Warner Bros.' executive vice president for distribution and technology.
That kind of rapid delivery, Reid said, would allow theater operators the flexibility to economically market niche films that could be shown for just a day or two to a targeted audience. It would also allow operators to quickly find more screens for surprise hits.
"We believe that if we can make that a very efficient process, very fast, they'll be able to respond to audience demands more," he said.
Beaming an encrypted version of a digital film directly to the theater should also cut down on film piracy and bootlegging, Antonellis said, by eliminating the number of opportunities for people to get their hands on the movie as it is transit.
DCIP is owned equally by the Regal, AMC and Cinemark theater chains, which have 14,000 screens in North America. The new system would be available to those and other interested theater operators, Reid and Antonellis said. About 2,200 U.S. theater screens currently show digital films.
Officials with the venture wouldn't offer a date by which they hope to have the system in place or give a cost estimate.
"I think the latter part of this year we'll likely be doing some testing," said Antonellis. "Our hope is as things progress and ... as the projectors roll out there will be a lot more activity."
By JOHN ROGERS, Associated Press Writer