Films as Information Super-Highway
Cinemas will soon be replaced by huge entertainment centres if digital video dissemination of films comes about. This will allow free flow of information and make it easier to distribute films in different countries. Saturday night, all the movies might be a totally different experience, if the hopes of the movie industry’s high-tech planners come true. In fact, if all goes ac-cording to plan, cinemas will be replaced by megaplex entertainment centres, all inter-connected on the information super-highway. The implications for film production and distribution could be profound, say industry experts.
Currently, 35 millimetre prints of movies are shipped by Federal Express to movie theatres all-over the nation in tin cans, says, Richard Meyser, a Pacific Bell executive. He describes it as an asphalt highway mode of distribution. According to him, the technology currently exists to distribute movies through fibre optic telephone lines, directly to the nation’s theatres. To do so, however, films must be converted to digital video, which most experts feel is an inferior image to that of 35 millimetre film, especially on large screens.
One way of upgrading the video image is by using a high definition television video (HDTV) image of 1150 lines, Meyser says, even though high definition television is not yet available via satellite, or broadcast in the United States.
Meyser says, his company hopes to offer a direct distribution service later this year, if current tests yield satisfactory results. The world Cup Soccer Finals, last year, was disseminated to theatres he in the United States and Europe, using a HDTV image via telephone lines, points out. The question of digital video duplicating the richness of the 35 millimetre film image, however, “is one of the most controversial issues,” Meyser says. “Current projection systems are not superior to film.” But the technology is evolving rapidly, he adds, and points out that his company is experimenting with producing a video image of 2,000 lines, much more than even the 1150 line system envisaged for the general U.S. HDTV system.
In addition, video technology offers theatre owners the ability to programme much more diversely, and throughout the day, Meyser points out. For example, theatres could be used for live rock concerts, pay-per-view short distance learning, and other forms of education and entertainment. “I would not be surprised at how fast the technology evolves,” he remarks.
Larry Levinson, the senior Washington counsel for Viacom, a leading entertainment company that recently merged with Paramount, says the consequences of these developments could be profound. It might result “in doing away with film quotas and other boundaries, and allow a greater free flow of information. It will make it easier to distribute European films in the United States be-cause everyone will be allowed access to the telephone networks and digital video enhances dubbing and other capabilities needed – by foreign producers.”
Levinson is not worried that digital video dissemination of films will lead to the demise of theatres, since television will have the same capability. “People will still go to theatres”, he says. Nothing will ever substitute for the shared experience of a darkened theatre and a big screen, “Even now—with television—there are 25,000 movie screens in the United States, more than ever before”, he notes. As far as costs are concerned, the current bill is about 5000 million to distribute movies along the asphalt highway and reproduce the prints needed, Meyser says, “We believe our cost will be no greater.”