One screen per multiplex, or, How is AAM converting CGR to digital cinema?

By Patrick von Sychowski | April 25, 2008 5:22 am PDT

A press release from Arts Alliance Media (AAM) about their deployment with France CGR Cinémas is more interesting for what it reveals unintentionally than what it tries to trumpet. The headline of the press release is ‘CGR Cinemas and Arts Alliance Media Install the First All-Digital Multiplex in France at La Rochelle’, but it is the subtitle that hints at what’s more interesting about it: ‘Initial phase of CGR digital cinema rollout complete’.

The fact that an entire multiplex has been converted to digital is unremarkable. Not only are there scores of such multiplexes in the US, but AAM itself was involved in setting up an all-digital multiplex for Odeon in UK, and they are also not doing without 35mm projectors, as was the case with Vue in the UK. And yet that seems to be the key point of this press release:

Circuit George Raymond (CGR Cinémas), one of France’s largest cinema chains and Arts Alliance Media (AAM), Europe’s leading specialist in digital cinema technology, content and deployment have announced the installation of France’s first fully digital 12-plex cinema at La Rochelle. This is a significant milestone for the French motion picture industry and further proves the viability of the Virtual Print Fee (VPF) business model for Europe’s widespread transition to digital cinema.

But the more interesting fact is burried in the third paragraph:

To date, a total of 19 screens have been equipped with DCI-compliant 2K digital projection systems within 8 different CGR multiplexes across France in the cities of La Rochelle, Blagnac, Brignais, La Meziere, Lattes, Niort, Villenave d’Ornon and Torcy. At the La Rochelle site – the first one to be fully equipped in digital – a one-month extensive test and analysis phase has now begun, which will allow CGR and AAM to assess network interactivity software and data reliability solutions. To enable a smooth transition to digital, the 35mm projection systems remain in place, so each screen can play 35mm or digital prints, as needed.

So 19 screens in total, of which 12 are found in La Rochelle, leaves seven screens for the other seven CGR multiplexes, i.e. just one screen per multiplex.

CGR cinema map

From an operations perspective this is self defeating. AAM should know this from the UK Film Council’s Digital Screen Network experience, where the installation of just one screen per multiplex has led to inability to move any film playing in digital, restricting programming to dropping that film or ordering a 35mm print for a smaller screen. So the move only makes sense from the perspective of testing. This is mentioned further down in the press release:

Sébastien Bruel, CGR’s Technical Director said “We have worked closely with Alexandre Brouillat of AAM, and with CDS, our integrator partner, in order to design and install a technical infrastructure that supports and enhances our processes, from the delivery of content to the projection: it meets our highest expectations. This flagship installation will allow us to validate our network strategy, make sure our security requirements are met and set up our new operational processes before the next installations.” (italics added)

That explains the 12+screen, but not the other single installations. Moreover, AAM already has considerable experience from the DSN, as well as its UK Odeon installation and also dabbling in Norway. So why do they just put in one screen per multiplex, meaning that they will have to return to equip all other screens at a future point. The only explanation is that it does allow for digital 3D as well as showing opera and other forms of alternative content. Echoing the press release is a Variety article:

“This will open new perspectives to our group in terms of 3-D and alternative content, as well as faster and more flexible programming and increased efficiency,” enthused Jocelyn Bouyssy, CEO, CGR Cinemas.

So a single or two digital screens in a multiplex would be good for showing 3D films and alternative content, which AAM is actively inserting itself into,

Either way, the press release promises 100 screens by July 2008, equivalent to a quarter of the circuits screens. Perhaps by then AAM will also have announced more cinema partners – at the current rate of announcement it will take them more than seven years to reach their goal of 7,000 screens – and also Warner Bros or some European distributors as VPF signatories to its plans. Expect some deals to be held back for RAAM and/or Cinema Expo.

Patrick von Sychowski
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