20th Century Fox's high-profile stare-down with exhibitors over who would pay for digital 3-D glasses to go with "Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs" has been settled. But the issues underlying the dispute will almost certainly flare up again.
Fox, which had initially threatened to make theater owners bear the costs, has agreed to pick up the tab, according to several people familiar with the matter.
The glasses are supplied by RealD, a Beverly Hills company that provides 3-D technology to theaters.
In the past, studios have paid 75 cents to $1 per moviegoer for the glasses. That can easily add as much as $10 million to the cost of a successful film's release.
It's a sore point for studios, which complain that they shouldn't have to pay that fee, particularly because theaters can reuse glasses. The studios are already incurring additional costs of about $15 million a picture to make a movie in 3-D. Tickets for 3-D movies come with a $2 to $3 surcharge, which is split between theater owners and studios.
Theater owners note that they already are investing heavily in the new format. They typically pay RealD a one-time upfront licensing fee of $5,000 to $10,000 a screen to use its equipment, plus a royalty of about 50 cents a ticket.
Fox was the first studio whose concerns became public, when word got out during the ShoWest film industry trade show in March that it was pressuring exhibitors to pay for the glasses to go with "Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs," which comes out July 1 and is the studio's first 3-D movie. Theater chains balked, with Regal, the nation's biggest, threatening to play the movie in 2-D only.
With nearly 50 3-D movies due out in the next two years, the issue of who will pay for 3-D glasses is hardly settled.
Fox is expected to keep pressuring theaters to pick up the tab and push for them to reuse the glasses. The studio has ample incentive: In December it will release James Cameron's 3-D sci-fi action movie "Avatar," the director's first major film since 1997's "Titanic."