Hollywood wants more 3-D theatres

March 11, 2008 10:54:02 AM PDT
3-D movies can make lots of money, so Hollywood wants to show more of them.Four movie studios - Disney, News Corp.'s 20th Century Fox, Viacom Inc.'s Paramount and Universal Pictures have reached agreements with a company to convert 10,000 more theater screens to be able to display the 3-D technology.

Access Integrated Technologies Inc., the contractor, says it will cost $700 million. The company has already converted 3,700 movie screens to accept the digital 3-D format.

Hollywood is anxious to convert as many theaters as possible to the digital 3-D format, because it provides sharper images while eliminating the need for expensive celluloid film. It also allows theater companies to offer live events and shows from other venues.

Along with digital projection, today's 3-D technology makes use of polarized lenses rather than the flimsy red and green cardboard cutouts of the past that could cause nausea and headaches.

"Hannah Montana & Miley Cyrus: Best of Both Worlds Concert," a 3-D movie from Disney, pulled in $31.3 million in its opening weekend. It was an impressive feat because it played on only 683 screens, compared with many wide-release films that open on more than 3,000 screens and make half as much.

Disney is the parent company of 6abc.

"We were in as many locations as we could possibly get," said Chuck Viane, president of distribution for Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures. "If there were 3,000 3-D screens available, would we have played them all? Yeah, I think we would."

At least 30 more 3-D movies are in the pipeline from Hollywood, including this summer's adaptation of Jules Verne's "Journey to the Center of the Earth."

Theaters owners and studios hope the offerings will help bring people back to multiplexes for an experience that cannot be matched by increasingly sophisticated home theater systems.

The theater industry is also battling competition from video games and other alternative entertainment along with Internet movie downloads.

The push to convert screens had been bogged down by a number of issues, including the shaky credit market that has threatened to increase costs even further.

"It's just been maybe slower than anticipated," said Stifel Nicolaus analyst Drew Crum.

Thus far, about 4,000 screens - just 10 percent of the estimated 38,000 screens in the U.S. and Canada - have been outfitted with digital technology.

Only about 1,040 of those screens are now outfitted to show 3-D movies.

Interest in 3-D has come and gone since the 1950s, but studios began to take the format seriously again after a 3-D version of 2004's "The Polar Express" from Warner Bros. grossed more than $45 million.

A number of high-profile filmmakers now have 3-D projects in the works, including James Cameron and Tim Burton.

Walt Disney Co. is making "Toy Story 3" in 3-D and plans to rerelease the first two "Toy Story" films in the trilogy in the format.

Box office figures have shown the submersive effect of 3-D can attract two to three times more moviegoers who are willing to pay as much as $3 more per ticket, Crum said.

WEB LINK: Access Integrated Technologies Inc.