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Digital Cinema Management a Box Office Hit

As digital cinema revolutionises the way independent theatres are run, local owners are reaping the rewards, but changes are still ahead. Light House Cinema's Petone branch last week completed its digital conversion and owner Simon Werry said digital theatre management technology was redefining the profession.

"Whereas in the past it might have taken a few hours to get the film up, it's now minutes. It has changed the definition of a projectionist. The shift has become more IT focused as opposed to working with film."

With the company's three cinemas now all moving to digital, new management systems meant gains could be made across the board, he said. Theatre Management Systems (TMS) uses server-based technology to distribute content across a cinema. Films are uploaded to a single server, packaged with trailers and cues and then sent across a network. The systems also control scheduling and projection, allowing films to be added into schedules or removed on the go.

"In the past, we were installing into each individual screen, and now can prepare it once and then send it to all screens," Werry said. "The benefits to us are being able to run a much tighter and more efficient business."

Despite all these changes, one aspect of film remains the same as 100 years ago: films are still delivered to cinemas by hand. Werry said there was still not enough confidence in online distribution to remove the need for delivery of films by hard-drives. "You have to have the confidence that you can get it out on the screen at the right time. I'm not saying it's never going to change, but as it currently stands it's quite a big ask."

Tech giant NEC, a relative newcomer to cinema which provides digital solutions to both the public and private sectors, thinks a change is coming. New Zealand general manager Leonard Dench said conversion to digital projection was the current priority for independent filmmakers, but a change in the style of delivery was on the cards. "We're looking at how to put the networks in place to deliver the amount of data fast."

He said a model now being considered involved creating caches or hubs that would connect to local cinemas, allowing quick distribution while still providing the copyright assurances studios needed. "It'll be especially easy in New Zealand with ultrafast broadband going in."

As cinemas completed the change-over to digital, systems would become more efficient and new technologies could be integrated more easily, he said. "We envision advertising in theatres will be based on who's in the theatre, using facial recognition." Dench said cinema owners were currently locked into films they had bought months ago and instant delivery would mean they would be free to respond to public demand.

Major film studios still deliver a limited number of movies on film, but availability is diminishing and is expected to end in the next 18 months.

New Zealand independent cinema owners joined the Independent Cinema Association of Australia in 2010 to gain collective bargaining power to access major film studios' own conversion subsidies.

- Boris Jancic, Dominion Post, 5 July 2013

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