As Carolyn Giardina and Adrian Pennington report in today’s Hollywood Reporter, “by the end of this year, distributors may no longer deliver film prints to theaters in North America. Cans full of reels of celluloid will be a thing of the analog past. When it comes to movies, and how they are distributed, the digital revolution will be complete. The signs are all there — and there have been plenty of warnings.
At Showest, the predecessor to CinemaCon, in 2011, National Association of Theatre Owners president John Fithian predicted that the domestic distribution of movies on celluloid could cease before the end of 2013. Fithian reported that Fox had already notified exhibitors of its intent to end film distribution in the U.S. within two years. He predicted, ‘No one should rely on the distribution of film prints much longer.’
By the end of 2012, 90,000, or 75 percent, of the world’s cinema screens had gone digital, according to Michael Karagosian, president of MKPE Consulting. He reports that 85 percent of the screens in North America had already made the digital switch, as have 67 percent in Europe. Studios welcomed the change, since it will ultimately be less expensive for them to distribute films digitally rather than have to ship cans of film around the country. Exhibitors, initially wary because of concerns about the expense of converting their auditoriums, ultimately came aboard once the studios agreed to virtual print fees that have helped subsidize the costs of the transition.
As a result, when a studio now releases a title wide in North America — sending it out to 2,000-2,500 theaters — they typically make just a small number of prints, maybe 300, according to Claude Gagnon, president of Technicolor Creative Services. But for those who still rely on film, from production companies to distributors to theater owners, the future is now uncertain. In fact, studios and filmmakers might not be in control of their own destiny.”