Disney to release films digitally

Disney's deal with Access Integrated Technologies will help push theaters into the electronic age.

Alex Armitage | Bloomberg News
Posted September 16, 2005

Walt Disney Co. on Thursday agreed to distribute and show movies digitally, jump-starting an effort to usher the nation's theaters into the electronic age.

Disney said it agreed to release films using a digital format compatible with Access Integrated Technologies Inc.'s projection systems for theaters.

Access will install 2,500 to 4,000 digital projectors in U.S. and Canadian theaters over two years, the companies said.

The deal is nonexclusive, letting Disney use different formats for the 35,000 theaters in North America.

Disney's decision will speed up the adoption of digital technology in theaters, said Chuck Viane, president of distribution at Disney's Buena Vista Pictures.

Christie/AIX, a joint venture of Access and Tokyo-based Ushio Inc.'s Christie Digital Cinema, will manage installations and act as a financing intermediary for studios and exhibitors.

Disney said it was the first major studio to sign an agreement to provide content for Christie/AIX system.

"This is the first serious plan being put into fruition" for changing to digital film, Christie Digital President Jack Kline said.

Bud Mayo, chairman and chief executive of Access, said he expects installations to begin in October and to have 150 screens showing digital movies by Christmas.

Christie Digital will supply exhibitors with projectors, media players and servers, while Access will supply software and satellite dishes, Mayo said in an interview.

"This is a partnership that will kick-start digital cinema in the U.S.," Mayo said.

Exhibitors will pay only for installation and maintenance, and Disney will pay Christie/AIX each film's one-time cost of creating a digital print.

"That's the revenue stream that pays us back for the installation cost," Mayo said.

In addition to Disney, Mayo and Kline said Christie/AIX is in talks with other studios to make similar agreements.

Digital Cinema Initiatives LLC, a group of Hollywood studios that includes Time Warner Inc.'s Warner Bros., News Corp.'s 20th Century Fox and Disney, agreed in July on standards that will make it easier for theaters to show movies from digital media instead of film.