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Drive-in theaters get help for digital conversion

February 04, 2013|By Richard Verrier
  • "Gangster Squad" is seen playing at the Rubidoux Drive-In Theater in Riverside last month. Hollywood will stop producing 35-mm prints sometime this year, and drive-in theaters must switch to digital projection systems or risk going dark.
"Gangster Squad" is seen playing at the Rubidoux Drive-In Theater… (Francine Orr / Los Angeles…)

Drive-in theaters threatened with extinction by the digital revolution are getting a helping hand.

The National Assn. of Theatre Owners and the company Cinedigm, which supplies digital equipment and content to the exhibition industry, said they will help drive-in theaters secure financing to pay for the cost of converting from film to digital projectors.

Most drive-in theaters, which are independently owned and seasonally operated, have not yet converted to digital, raising the prospect that many will be left behind when studios stop releasing movies on actual film sometime this year. Only about 10% of drive-in exhibitors have installed digital projectors for their large outdoor screens, according to the theater association.

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To address the problem, the trade group and Cinedigm have agreed to extend an existing program that uses so-called "virtual print fees," paid by studios, to finance the deployment of digital projectors.

"Traditional movie theaters across the nation have embraced the many benefits of digital cinema,” said John Fithian, president of NATO. “Cinedigm and NATO’s collaborative efforts have played a significant role in that transition and we are thrilled to partner with Cinedigm again to bring drive-ins into the digital age.”

Cinedigm has assisted more than 276 theater operators with at least 12,200 digital screens in the U.S. and Canada.

“As someone who grew up going to drive-ins, I’m thrilled that we are in the position to usher them into the digital age,” said Alison Choppelas, vice president / business affairs for Cinedigm’s Media Services Group. “By providing drive-in theaters digital content, including studio feature films, indie films, concerts and cultural events, this important piece of Americana will be an even more engaging gathering spot for the communities they serve.”

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