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Thursday, August 15, 2013

Classic film "movie theaters" RIP...Digital or Die!

For almost 90 years, the Bonham Theater has been a center of social life and a place where the tiny town of Fairbury, Neb., (population 3,942) can gather to catch the latest Hollywood movies.
But two weeks ago, owner Allen Hinkle switched off the movie projectors for probably the last time and closed the theater’s doors, leaving the community without a movie theater for more than 25 miles.
Allen Hinkle
Like the small town Texas theater in “The Last Picture Show,” turning off its marquee forever in the face of competition from television, the Bonham Theater is under fire -- the victim of a shift from film to digital projection.

(Bonham Theater, above. Still from "The Last Picture Show" below right.)
It is a scene playing out for more than a thousand independent and community theater owners across America, who must fork over between $65,000 to $150,000 per screen for digital theater systems or face extinction. And with each cinema that goes dark, a piece of the social fabric unravels with it, theater owners argue.
“They’re cutting the throat of the small guys,” Hinkle told TheWrap.
Studios have been pushing for the change for nearly a decade, because digital distribution allows them to save thousands of dollars in print fees. As an incentive to theater owners, they have played up the enhanced picture quality that comes with digital projectors and the ability to show films in 3D -- a format that allows exhibitors to charge higher ticket prices.
Hinkle had hoped to sell the Bonham, but he told TheWrap that in order to find a buyer he has to pay more than $100,000 to convert the theater from film to digital projection.
After asking the town to help him raise the money, but receiving little in the way of donations, he decided that it no longer made any sense to stay open and wait for the rapidly approaching day when studios decide to stop providing theaters with 35mm film prints.
“We’re closing it," Hinkle said, "because we’re not going to extend ourselves out with another loan when we want to sell.”
Scores of other independent movie theaters are in the same position, and time is running out. The message from studios is clear: convert or die.
“This is existential at this point,” Patrick Corcoran, director of media and research for the National Association of Theater Owners (NATO), told TheWrap. “It’s not how much can you make from digital. It’s if you want to be in business, you have to be in digital.”
So far, 3,447 theaters have converted to digital out of 5,700 theaters in the United States, Corcoran said. But those stragglers must act fast, because at some point in the next year he believes it will no longer make economic sense for studios to continue to provide film prints.

First published 8-18-2012

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