Digital conversion door opens for independent cinemas

Independent cinema screens in both Australia and New Zealand will be able to make a leap into the digital future after an announcement earlier today.

Touted as the most important change in Australian independent cinema exhibition in 100 years, more than 700 independent cinema screens will now have an easier path to digital conversion.

Omnilab Media digital cinema depoloyment company Omnilab Media Cinema Services will become the recommended Digital System Integrator for ICAA members and manage and administer the virtual print fee (VPF) for ICAA independent cinemas, supply digital cinema systems at reduced cost for ICAA members and provide a network service and digital distribution platform to participating screens.

ICAA CEO Mark Sarfaty – an INSIDEFILM columnist – said it was a 10-year, “turn-key digital solution” which had at its heart the best interests of independent cinemas.

“ICAA is very pleased to have come to an agreement with Omnilab Media, one of Australia’s most innovative digital media companies, in their entry into the digital cinema environment.”

Omnilab will also install a satellite download link into each location allowing for delivery of digital cinema packages, live and alternative cinema content and pre-show content.

Sarfaty says Virtual Print Fee – the globally-used partial finance subsidy used to finance the conversion of the cinema industry to digital – negotiations with studio distributors are well advanced with announcements expected shortly.

NSW regional cinemas operator and ICAA president Kieren Dell added: “Digital cinema conversion is the most important change in exhibition in 100 years.

“The process of negotiation has been slow and difficult over the past six years; today’s announcement provides an easy path to digital conversion for independent cinemas in Australia and in New Zealand.”

The establishment of Omnilab as an integrator gives independent cinemas several commercial advantages:
• A VPF which will offset the cost of digital conversion equipment;
• Group buying of digital equipment reduces overall costs
• Cinemas will be participating in a networked satellite digital distribution facility of more than 700 screens.

Omnilab Media's managing director Christopher Mapp said: "The conversion from film to digital projection offers audiences a genuinely new level of quality cinema viewing. It offers cinemas incredible flexibility in programming and the opportunity to screen new content such as live sporting events and concerts.

"For Omnilab Media, this is a great business relationship and specifically complements the suite of activities such as; equipment systems integration, broadcast playout, content distribution, cross media asset management that the company is already engaged in across Australia and in recent years around the world. We have been delighted to work closely with ICAA, its board and members to achieve this outcome.”

International advisors to the project are Michael Karagosian, the world’s pre-eminent digital cinema specialist and consultant to other deployment entities including Arts Alliance Media and the US National Association of Theatre Owners; and US entertainment lawyer Jonathan Blinderman.