CJ@IBC EDCF Global Update

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The EDCF annual IBC gathering is a smorgasbord of information about the latest developments in the digital cinema industry. More speakers than time, so without further ado, Dave Monk kicks it off handing over to the first speaker.

David Hancock (IHS) – “9 1/2 years I’ve been doing this slide,” Hancock said, “and in 12-18 months there won’t be the grey bar any more because analogue will be gone.” There are still a handful of territores where there is analogue (Turkey, Baltic States, Latin America). “Technlogy is now the currency driving cinema,” and that’s what he is focusing on today. Hard drives dominate still, even though some territories like Fance it only accounts for 1/3. But that’s all set to change. Most of the focus for DCP delivery today is on broadband, but that and satellite co-exist.

Ymagis takeovers of dcinex and Smartjog has created one major entity. That’s the biggest change in the last year. “The market is concentrating down to a few players,” such as Deluxe, Unique and Ymagis. “But as an exhibitor, how many suppliers do you want i your site?” Some countries have just one supplier for all sites.

Laser projection – some consumers cite lack of brightness as reason for not going to see 3D. It has not been proven to work, “but what we have now is the first generaton and not what it will be shipped to cinemas.” IHS predicts 100-200 this year and 400-500 in 2015, but mainly smaller projectors. “Laser is inectricably linked to the replacemnt [cycle] of the first generation of digital cinea projector.” Business model is needed for replacement machinery – there is no VPF for laser replacement, Hancock highlights.

Audio – “Recently the sector has re-discovered competition after a decade of lack of competition.” 1,500 screens equipped with Atmos or Auro by the end of 2014. But there is now focus on the home evironment, as well as markets such as automotive (cars). Where does it all lead, ancock asks. Premium cinema, particularly large format, is the answere Hancock notes. “Technology pushes the premium experience,” he observes. 1.,401 PLF screens 1h 2014 with IMAX capturing 45%. Conclusion: may you live in interesting times.

There is a tension between technology and cinema. “The cycle of technology does not match the technology of cinema.” Last observation particularly interesting: “physical decline [DVD etc.] ups cinema in Europe: the value chain increasingly underpinned by cinema.”

John Hurst (Cinecert) – First slide asks ‘Is Ten Years Too Long’ but his topic is the state of [digital cinema] equipment in the field. It looks like cinemas here in Europe are better maintained than cinemas in US in temrs of receiving SMPTE DCPs. You have to keep your software up to daye in your digital cinema server to take advantage of all new features – not just bells-and-whistles ad-ons.

He then calls Rich Philips from Arts Alliance (AAM) up to stage. AAM have spun off most of their digital cinema business, but they still have the digital cinema software technology. The message from Richard is that verisoning is not too bad in Eurpe, but that education is an issue, with most exhibitors clueless that there is another hurdle that needs to be jumped through. “That’s all I have to sya really.”

Chris Witham (Disney) is then called to stage by Hurst. He jams through it in two minutes. “For people to keep coming back to cinemas, we have to offer the best experience possible.” He then discusses Disney’s transition plan to SMPE DCPs with 2015 the target date.

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CJ@IBC ‘Life of Pi’ in Christie 6P laser 14 ftL 3D with Dolby Atmos

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The IBC movie night screenings have always been an opportunity to showcase the latest advances in big screen technology, while also giving IBC attendees a bit of blockbuster fun. This year was a technology world first that made a big impression on everyone attending.

Thanks to tremendous support from IBC’s technology, integration and content partners, we were treated to a 3D presentation of an unsurprassed quality. Thanks to the use of Christie’s new 6P laser-illuminated projector, over 40 speakers from QSC, Dolby Atmos immersive audio and a DCP of 20th Century Fox’s multi-Oscar winning ‘Life of Pi’ graded especially for 14 footlamberts (ftL) 3D brightness, projected onto a 1.0 gain matt screen, it showcased something that no public audience had yet seen before, as IBC Big Screen Experience producer Julian Pinn explained on stage.

Two years ago Christie first showa ased its laser projectors at IBC with a secial screening of ‘Hugo’, but that was off a silver screen with an 1.8 gain. Back then there was no immersive audio (either Atmos or Auro), so this presentation raised the bar in several regards. While not new, the film was an excellent choice, not least given that it had won Academy Awards for best Cinematography, Visual Effects and Music.

Watching it I was not so much immediately struck by the brightness but by the colours, details and clarity. It is a cliche to talk about ‘looking through a window’ but that is what it felt like as the camera panned through the Pondicherry zoo over the opening credits. Yes, it was bright as you would expect a sunny day in southern India to be, but the brightness felt natural. But brightness is only something that you consciously appreciate when it is not there – as will be the case with future 3D films I watch in regular cinemas.

The audio was equally impressive, not least because of a terrific mix that was as nuanced in the stormy sea scenes with the ship sinking as the quieter moments that picked out individual sounds of animals. The combines effect was such that almost nobody in the audience (who filled the big RAI Auditorium) got up to leave once the film had started. For a Saturday night in Amsterdam, that is truly impressive.

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CJ@IBC ‘Tri-focal Camera Systems – Will Hybrid 3D prove to be the ultimate 3D?’

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The war between stereoscopic purists who insist on filming with two cameras and those that prefer the control and convenience of 2D-to-3D conversion could soon draw to an end with the best of both worlds in the form of the hybrid Tri-focal camera system, which IBC Big Screen audiences were offered a sneak peak of.

Howard Lukk (formerly with Disney & Pixar, now Director Pannon Entertainment, USA) bounced up to stage to give  brief introduction and why when he was at Disney they got into it. Having worked on the tech side of Hanna Montana/Miley Cyrus they quickly became aware of the problems and limitations of shooting native 3D. “I was awfully jealous of the guys at animation who could render it out in 3D,” he confessed.  “Is there a new paradigm,” he asked, and that is what lead to it.

At the same time Fraunhofer was working on a camera that pointed the way to hybrid 3D, with a prototype Arri with two side cameras. The Gen 3 camera was the one taken out into the real world (Berlin, if you will) and shot the short film that we were about to see.

Johannes Steurer (Principal Engineer, Arri Cine Technik, Germany) next took to the stage to explains how Arri came around to “stereo unaware” solutions with hybrid 3D based on the Alexa camer. Primary camera = established cine style digital camera. Two auxiliary cameras = small leightweight non-intrusive.

Synchronized recording of all three camera streams was critical. Coarse alignment by mechanical adjustment, fine alignment took place by stereo analyzer software (STAN). (Too much technical detail to do it all justice. Hopefully Arri will publish a white paper for those interested). He concluded with a picture of the camera, which at 10 kg wasn’t (yet) significantly more elegant than native 3D cameras.

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CJ@IBC ‘Event Cinema – more than just TV on the Big Screen’

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The burgeoning field of event cinema (nee ‘alternative content’) is highly topical for the IBC Big Screen Experience, as the larger IBC conference straddles the worlds of content produced, distributed and displayed for all size screens. In the interest of full disclosure, I was one of the co-producers for this session, though more credit should go to my co-producer Peter Wilson who did the greater job of assembling the crack team of speakers and practitioners.

The session was developed in close co-operation with the Event Cinema Association (ECA), which in the last 18-24 months has become a major force for the event cinema industry in terms of giving it a voice, focus and profile internationally. ECA has its own event on 16 October in London, so IBC was very fortunate that Peter and Melissa made time so close to their own big day.

The session is chaired by event cinema legend Mark Schubin (Schubin’s Cafe, USA), who has been the technical Wizard behind the curtains (actually in the OB van) of the Metropolitan Opera since its first live cinema transmission and also the world leading expert on the history of electronic opera (and its relation to baseball).

The session has several distinguished speakers, lots of content and (of course) barely enough time to do it all ful justice, despite Schubin doing a great job of keeping everyone to their time. Please pardon spelling errors as I’m doing tripple duty of reporting, tweeting and floor managing at the same time.

The session was opened by Melissa Cogavin (nee Keeping, Managing Director, Event Cinema Association, UK) who played the event cinema trailer that showcased the range and depth of what’s been in cinemas in the last 12 months: ‘Your Cinema – Event Cinema’. She began by asking what “alternative is, givent that event cinema was previously known as ‘alternative content’.'  She noted that 1,500 cinemas showed Doctor Who and grossed over GBP 10 million. “Event cinema is the fastest growing category at the box office. It is headed for being a billion dollar business,” she said. “For something considered ‘alterntive’ that’s pretty amazing.” She talked about ‘demystifying’ the process, to which end they (ECA) are publishing the technical handbook this autumn. 

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Daily Cinema Digest – Friday 12 September 2014

As you may have noticed Patrick von Sychowski is in Amsterdam attending IBC which means you must suffer my attempt at putting together a Daily Cinema Digest.  Be sure to check out all of Patrick’s coverage of IBC after catching up on the day’s (or in this case, week’s) cinema news.

Big Cinemas

Hey, remember when North American exhibitors built way too many multiplexes during the 1980′s and 90′s over extending themselves to such a degree that during the early 2000′s the industry began to consolidate with cinema chains buying each other out or merging?  Well, it seems this is a trend that might be hard to avoid.  India has been going through a huge multiplex boom over the past decade and now it seems has entered the consolidation phase of the business cycle.  Rumors are afoot that Carnival Films is in negotiations to acquire the majority of Reliance MediaWorks theatre chain Big Cinemas.  This would be the third such merger or acquisition for India’s exhibition industry in as many months:

Inox Leisure, India’s second largest multiplex operator, acquired Delhi-based Satyam Cineplexes Ltd for nearly Rs.240 crore, paying Rs.182 crore in cash and taking over its debt in a deal that expanded Inox’s presence to 50 cities, with 91 multiplexes and 358 screens; and Housing Development and Infrastructure Ltd (HDIL) sold its multiplex business Broadway Cinemas to Carnival Cinemas for an undisclosed amount.

If the deal goes through Carnival would end up with 280 screens.  That really seems to be one of the main reasons for all the mergers and acquisitions; more screens a bigger market share of the box office and thus more leverage when negotiating with film producers and distributors over film rental.

According to the omnipresent anonymous source “familiar with the situation” Reliance isn’t looking to completely exit exhibition:

“The contour of the final transaction is yet to be arrived at, but Big Cinemas will not entirely exit the business. It will form a strategic alliance with an existing cinema exhibition chain that will run the daily operations and it will receive proportionate revenues from them as part of the partnership. Reliance MediaWorks will also invest in the venture as part of its growth strategy because it believes there is growth potential in this business.”

Don’t expect the consolidation of the Indian exhibition industry to slow down anytime soon.  Jehil Thakkar, head of the media and entertainment practice at KPMG, told LiveMint:

We certainly do see the cinema multiplex industry continuing to consolidate inorganically as the real growth opportunity lies there… Most of the big players are seeking inorganic growth options and scale is a very important part of this business.”

I just love that word “inorganic”.  Do you think since organic products usually cost more at stores that inorganic ones would cost less?  If so, maybe Carnival could get a discount on Big Cinemas since it would technically be considered “inorganic growth”.  LINK

Megabox

South Korea – The sale of exhibition circuits isn’t limited to India.  Over in South Korea an investment group is looking to cash out on their seven-year investment in Megabox.  Korea Multiplex Investment Corp.

Inside, though anonymous, sources have told various media outlets that backers Korea Multiplex Investment Corp., whose shareholders include the National Pension Service, Public Officials Benefit Association and Military Mutual Aid Association, are pushing for a sale of the company and have been reaching out to potential buyers.

Megabox is one of South Korea’s largest multiplex operators controlling 21% of the screens in the country as of last year. That figure is third to CJ CGV which operates 43% of screens and the film division of Lotte Shopping Company which controls 32%. Korea Multiplex, which owns 50% of Megabox (Jcontentree Corp. holds a 46% stake in the exhibitor), is hoping the circuit will sell for as much as 13 times its current earnings.

In 2013 Megabox netted KRW 25.6 billion (USD $24,745,216) on KRW 206.1 billion (USD $199,218,321) in revenue.  LINK

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CJ@IBC ‘Big Screen and Second Screen – can they coexist peacefully and profitably?’

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This IBC Big Screen session looks at how to turn the No. 1 irritant of modern cinema into something that enhances both revenue for cinema operators and enjoyment for the greater audience.

Given that there are people who have been shot and killed for using their smartphone in a cinema, this is a highly topical discussion, with some leading practitioners and experts assembled to give their view and demonstrating some cutting edge innovations.

Expect this session to go beyond the customary “now please tun ON your phone” jokes , though sadly there won’t be any demonstrations of the cinema ‘barrage’ types of big screen interactivity that have been making waves in China and beyond recently.

Chaired by Julian Pinn (of Julian Pinn Ltd.) he promised that the IBC Big Screen Experience would be “digging into the art, science and business of not just the big screen but also home and second screen.” He pointed out that for a long time we talked about digital cinema, “but now we will be talking about ‘disruptive cinema.’” (Then comes the ‘turn ON your phones ‘ joke – no escaping it.)

“How did we get here?”

Julian asks each of the panelists, “How did we get here?” not least given that cinema advertising was always about reels of 35mm ads. DCM’s Evea starts off by saying that “now that cinema have gone digital, they have become much more relevant for brands.” And with the advent of mobile, “it means that custmers can take the experience back with them.” He also stresses that cinema is the ultimate social medium. Mike from UK competitor Pearl & Dean observes that cinema audiences are not distracted and receptible to brand communication already in the cinema lobby.

Scarratt from Yummi says that apps and platforms like Yummi add value to the advertising experience. Shazam’s Weedon points out that using smartphones in cinemas is a “natural evolution of consumer behavior, starting with consumers having one screen. Now there is an intelligence between the first and second screen. This word, engagment, makes me wonder what we ever did without it” The formal presentations then started.

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East Bloc*Busters Exposes a Celluloid Utopia Once Concealed Behind the Iron Curtain

Competing Utopias

It turns out you don’t need a tricked out DeLorean to venture back in time, at least not to the middle of the 20th Century. All it requires is one step inside the Neutra VDL Studio and Residences in the Silver Lake neighborhood of Los Angeles. That’s where the East Bloc*Busters screening was held last Friday evening.

Just inside the front door of the house visitors are greeted by one of the most famous specimens of East German design; Peter Ghyczy‘s Garden Egg Chair from 1968. It sits behind a glass cubicle in a nook alongside a 1969 phone directory from East Berlin and a vintage push button telephone.

A flight of stairs lead up to the main living quarters on the first floor of the house, which once served as the home and studio of famed modernist architect Richard Neutra. An unbroken line of of large windows stretches around the living room and dining area providing an unobstructed view of Silver Lake Reservoir and giving one the feeling the house extends past its physical boundaries. Hanging off the Frigidaire in the kitchen are a handful of picture postcards of distant landmarks such as the Salute Hotel in Kiev. In the living room a shortwave radio is ready to tune in signals from foreign lands and a coffee table is scattered with East German fashion magazines from the 1960′s and 70′s.

Down a window lined hallway are a pair of bedrooms, one of which had belonged to Neutra himself and is where he did a lot of his drafting. Spread out on the bed is an open suitcase and an Interflug Airline pilot uniform. In the solarium on the second floor a closet hides a stash of various surveillance equipment used bye East German Stasi to spy on unknowing citizens. The balcony gardens just outside the solarium windows float on top of a flat roof that can be flooded to form a reflecting pool.

Most of these artifacts and many others aren’t usually found at the Neutra VDL Studio and Residences. They are actually a part of a special exhibit titled “Competing Utopias”. The installation, which opened on July 13th and runs through September 13th, required the removal of all the homes original historic objects to make way for Cold War pieces from the Wende Museum‘s collection.

The improbable “mash-up” of mid-century modernism from the west and Cold War design from the east was organized by both Neutra VDL and Wende. The latter institution is an archive and museum whose objective is to preserve cultural artifacts from Cold War-era Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union.

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CJ@IBC ‘High Dynamic Range imaging – contrasting views?’

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The quest for better-(not-just-more)-pixels is a big theme at this year’s IBC conference – primarily for television but with major implications for film and cinema too. For anyone thinking of buying a 4K/UHD TV, this is the session that tells you to wait until more than just the resolution of the big television sets improves.

Session chair Alberto Morello (RAI, Italy) calls this one of the “most interesting development in the evolution of video.” He singles out (more) pixels, (higher) frame rate and HDR (high dynamic range) as the things that “will give pleasure” to our viewers.

Touradj Ebrahimi (EPFL, Switzerland) goes up to the podium first to present an overview of the topic. He starts off by confessing to being an IBC virgin, but being ‘impressed’. Prof Ebrahimi stresses the importance of being able to measure to quantify improvements such as HDR.

Tests used Dolby Pulsar Display 42″, calling Dolby their “good friend” who “defined past, present and probably future” of high quality innovation. For content they “begged again” and Dolby provided that as well. Test material was shown sequentially and side-by-side in four different grades/mappings (4,000, 1,000, 400 and 100 nit). Appropriately one of the pieces of content was “Star Trek: Into Darkness”, but he wasn’t authorised to show that to us.
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Daily Cinema Digest – Tuesday 9 September 2014

AMC Wanda logo

‘AMC Is A Ticking Time Bomb’, Seeking Alpha’s article headline yells. Not quite as dire, but it does raise some pertinent questions about AMC’s long term financing. No mention of the summer slate of 2015 but just a penetrating look at the underlying profit, margin, borrowing, yield and re-financing numbers.

So why are investors willing to pay 22x Forward PE? Is the growth potential really that strong? Revenues has not indicated so. AMC’s profitability is not exactly very decent either – the company earned 2% net income margin for the H1 2014 compared to 3.8% a year ago. What about RGC? Same story.

A large portion of AMC’s earnings is actually paid to debt holders. AMC paid $57.6m in interest expenses compared to its net income of $26.9m during the first half of 2014.

And it is a hefty bill that shareholders have to foot.  LINK

Don’t forget though that AMC is 80% owned by Wanda, so whatever risks other shareholders are exposed to, Wanda carries four times that risk. So Wanda will not let AMC shares tank while it re-structures its planned IPO for Wanda’s Chinese cinema business, which may or may not take place in the US.

Get on Up

Universal has announced that it will henceforth support subtitling and audio description for all of its Hollywood releases in Germany.

Universal will provide cinemas in Germany with international films with subtitles and audio description in future. The first will be the James Brown biopic “Get On Up” on October 9. As stated in a press release co-authored with providers of the app Greta & Stark, this access will be provided for five new Universal releases, with subtitles and audio description in cinemas available in combination with this free smartphone app. In addition to “Get On Up”, these are the Stephen Hawking-biopic “The Theory of Everything”, “In The Labyrinth of Silence”, “Trash” and “Alles ist Liebe” (“All is Love”).  LINK

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Daily Cinema Digest – Monday 8 September 2014

Jerome Seydoux Pathe Paris

Paris is about to see the opening of a museum by the Jérôme Seydoux-Pathé Foundation, which will showcase the evolution of cinema through the Pathé film company’s history. The 2,200 square meter building itself looks hugely impressive (even if it makes people think of a ‘giant glass slug’), perhaps no surprise as it was designed by ‘starchitect’ Renzo Piano.

“Pathé was the first to make cinema into an international industry,” says cinema historian Anne Gourdet-Marès, who is in charge of the equipment section. “Pathé was a visionary, surrounding himself with engineers who could turn his ideas into equipment, like the Pathéscope or the Pathé Baby which dates from 1922. The initial studies for this camera were developed secretly with English engineers. ”

One of the draws of the Foundation, designed by the same architect who designed The Shard in London or the New York Times newspaper building, is its cosy 68-seater screening hall, equipped two 35mm projectors and a digital one – because of course the Foundation is involved in restoring and digitalising film.

A black piano at the foot of the screen is not just for show.  LINK

Cinema France

Reassuring then to know that cinema remains the favourite cultural activity of the French.

Over the past twelve months, the cinema topped the ranking with 72% against 42% for museums and 32% for concerts after LH2 study mareduc.com.

Cinemas attract 90% of 15-24 years, while 65 and older prefer the museum and exhibitions.

Next budget, the study says that more than six out of ten French, 65% spend less than 50 € monthly in cultural outings budget.  LINK

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