After completing VPF deals with six studios last June, Film & Kino has announced the selection of Unique Cinema Systems as an integrator for nine out of the ten sub-contracts it is awarding to convert cinemas across Norway to digital. Film & Kino put the contracts out to tender at the end of last year and numerous integrators, including Nordic Digital Alliance which won the tenth contract, had been vying to land a portion of the work. As well, by December of 2009 it seemed as if just about every equipment manufacturer had sent representatives to Oslo.
It was highly anticipated (at least by me) that Unique, based in Bergen, Norway and Dublin, Ireland, would wind up with a lions share of the contracts. After all, they are one of the few, if not the only, digital cinema integrators and deployment entities in Norway. According to Unique’s press release, the value of the Film & Kino contracts is estimated at NOK 300 million (EUR € 37 million or USD $50.13 million) and represents 300 screens.
Film & Kino had split the tender into ten different groups and then assigned each of Norway’s cinemas to one of the groups. Four of the groups were reserved for the four largest theatre chains in the country. Five of the groups were divvied up among each of Norway’s primary geographic regions and comprises of independent cinemas. The final group is for temporary cinemas, some of which are seasonal or travel between smaller towns. The contract for each of the groups was awarded separately by Film & Kino as well as individual committees made up of local participants with a working knowledge of the cinemas in their respective groups.
The tender process may have been short (about 6 months or less), but anyone who saw the request for proposal documentation would tell you it wasn’t easy. Each of the candidates had to submit their responses for how they would handle system support, numerous technical issues and commercial obligations. In the end, Unique was able to answer all of these questions and at the same time guarantee a high level of service at a competitive price. Dave Spilde, Director of Unique Cinema Systems was quoted in the press release announcing his company’s winning bids:
“This is a major step forward for the long awaited digitalisation of the cinema industry. We at Unique are proud to be part of this country wide conversion to Digital Cinema in Norway. Credit is due to the Film & Kino for their ambition and determination in bringing this ambitious project to fruition.”
Unique has either established, or will be opening, regional offices all over Norway to facilitate local support for cinema owners. Their service centers and technical support staff will be based in Bergen, Lier, Trondheim and Tromsø. Unique will now set out to install digital cinema servers and projectors in theatres within each of the contracted groups. Each package will include 2D kit leaving cinema owners financially responsible for upgrades to 3D and 4K. There is no word on which equipment was selected. Each complex will also have a theatre management system (TMS) and be monitored by a centralized network operations center.
Like many integrators, Unique has developed its own cinema management software. In fact, it wouldn’t be surprising to learn that Unique’s TMS helped them land the contracts. Handling everything from content management to back office VPF tracking, the software has been winning praise from exhibitors all over the world who’ve seen a demonstration. Chris Olsson-Hagan, Managing Director of Unique Digital, seemed happy that all of the software development work his team had completed was going to pay off:
“We are delighted that the investment Unique has made in evaluating the equipment and the long term development of new software management systems will now benefit both the theatre owners and the Norwegian cinema public.”
Unique is no stranger to software development. They started back in 1998 as Unique Promotions, selling digital audio visual equipment and IT solutions created for the exhibition space. By 2002 they had completed a system that allowed CAPA Kinoreklame to deliver electronic advertisements to all of Norway’s cinemas. Their preshow software system was so successful that Unique was soon helping digitize cinema advertising in Finland and a number of European countries.
By the time they were done, they had installed digital equipment on more than 1,500 screens. Then in 2006, Unique began to expand its footprint in the cinema space by taking on theatre facilities design and engineering work. Unique Cinema Systems was formed when in 2006, when Unique merged with Norwegian Cinema Technique and the Norwegian Theater Consulting strengthening the company into a full fledge digital cinema deployment and technology company.
For those who may wonder why Film & Kino didn’t just go with one integrator for the entire tender, this is likely because they didn’t want to be beholden to just one company.