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Digital cinema in India

The advantages of digital cinema include: piracy control; empowering the Government to get additional entertainment tax revenues; professional MIS systems and a back up of strong professional management teams.

The problem

Film prints cost about Rs 60-70,000 each. Thus only A-cities (large metropolitan areas) get the first releases. B and C cities receive the (worn out) prints after 5-8 weeks, placing pressure on exhibitors in those cities as audiences are aware of the release of the films in the A cities. The current model of distribution is thus not geared to extract value from the B & C centres as they do not participate in the first week phenomenon, leading to audience demand trailing off as the release is staggered. The exhibitors in these centres lose out as they are unable to realise the value from door collections as well as ancillary operations such as concessions and parking. The audience demand is instead met by piracy. According to Yash Chopra:

In fact, filmmaker Yash Chopra adds, “Piracy eats away more than 50 per cent of the business. Also, astute filmmakers have stopped releasing their films in the hinterland and even in states such as Assam and Orissa as well as countries such as Morocco and North Africa. If 95 per cent of the Hindi films don’t make money, imagine how much piracy must be cannibalising… In the US, studios release 2,000 prints of each film and the opening weekends (not week) can earn more than $100 million.” (ScreenIndia )

Electronic movie distribution would benefit these centers. However, that is not the end of the story. To extract the maximum value from the real-estate exhibitors globally have adopted the model of maximum number of screens per cinema — multiplexes. This allows exhibitors to distribute the occupancy depending on the demand, i.e., for heavily advertised blockbusters they can use all the screens, else show different films to cater to audience segmentation. This means blockbuster releases in A-centres have to invest in more prints to have maximum occupancy at the same time. Thus number of screens X cost of print = cost of distribution (not including promotion costs). To add to this problem is the headache advancements in television technologies, particularly pay-per-view/video-on-demand and high quality home theatre equipment. This model of distribution has the ability to reach consumers in all centres (though most likely through a delayed-release model).

The Solution

Thus, it is argued that an electronic distribution model can allow the movie distributor to distribute widely without the need for increasing its investment in prints, paving the path for an increase in revenue. India has a cinema screen ration of 12 screens for every 10 lakh (1 million) people (compared to 117 in the US). India has 12,900 theatres and there is scope for an additional 10,000 screens.

According to FICCI reports, the Indian film business is merely 0.67 per cent of the GDP (gross domestic product) as compared to 1.3 per cent in Thailand; 2.7 per cent in the US; 2 per cent in Brazil; and 1.1 per cent in S. Africa. The film business is expected to grow by 18 per cent p.a. every year and increase to Rs. 12,900 crore (Rs 129 billion) by 2009. The share of the organised production houses will increase to 55 per cent (from 20 per cent now) in five years. However, technology will drive the business in the new millennium.

The Players

UFO Moviez has converted 600 theatres in India, and plans to expand to over 2,000 for a total of 3,000 theatres worldwide by 2008. With a recent investment of $22 million from private equity firm 3i, the company intends to launch European operations with a target of 800 theatres. Other regions touted for expansion include Middle East, Africa, and South East Asia for the remaining 300 cinemas. UFO Moviez solution is based on e-cinema standard using MPEG4 technology, and is therefore not compatible with DCI specifications for d-cinema, as defined by the Studios.

Challenging the West

Raja Kanwar, vice-chairman of UFO Moviez slammed Hollywood’s standards for digital cinema (read here). He argued that they were “rigid, unrealistic”, and “not appropriate” to many territories including India. The battle is over DCI and d-cinema systems (Hollywood) vs e-cinema standards (UFO Moviez). Indian multiplex company Pyramid Saimira Theatres has entered into a deal with the Chinese government to launch a digital cinema chain with 7000 theatres in China. UFO plans to target 800 screens in Europe. Having personally witnessed the quality of UFO’s system, it is clear that Hollywood is imposing an unnecessarily complicated (and expensive) system on the world. DCI requires at least 2k projection with JPEG2000 servers. Given the number of cinemas requiring conversion, it is clear that the cheaper technology developed by UFO is a winner.


1 Ramesh Subramaniam { 05.02.07 at 10:54 pm }

Under the section “The Players” this article lists only UFO Moviez, which is not correct. In India there are 3 technology players in digital cinema, Real Image, Kalasa (representing GDC’s DSR digital cinema) and UFO Moviez. Worldwide, there are more than 5 digital cinema players besides the above mentioned 3 technology providers.

UFO’s solution is relevant for certain requirements as are others, and delivers performance for those requirements. The article compares DCI specs of JPEG2000 with MPEG4, which is but one parameter. The other parameters of evaluation should include availability of content, practical content delivery for first-day-first-show (there is no use for digital if the content has to reach the theater in analog to be followed later with digital because the digital print could not reach the theater in time), in theater system utilization (#of digital shows vs analog shows in the same theater), ease of operations, and credible system for repeated stable performance in theaters. Equally important is the DLP projector and server marriage, as the digital cinema servers are only as good as the projector being used, which throws the image on screen.

The only fact we can agree on is that Digital Cinema is an emerging technology, which is less than 5 years old. It is certainly going to change the face of theater projection, and the future holds good prospects for theater owners, distributors and producers as digital cinema is increasingly embraced by the film industry.

Any other claims on digital cinema are premature and personal, and not representing industry trends based on facts and figures. As the author clearly stated in his article, “Having personally witnessed…”, I believe this article is just that.

2 Kishore Budha { 05.03.07 at 5:15 am }

Thanks for the feedback. It is much appreciated. This is the whole point of the web — that others can contribute to knowledge. However, the article never claimed to be authoritative. It is only aimed at providing a general overview, thus the omissions are not deliberate.

The variables you have mentioned — availability of content, practical content delivery for first-day-first-show (there is no use for digital if the content has to reach the theater in analog to be followed later with digital because the digital print could not reach the theater in time), in theater system utilization (#of digital shows vs analog shows in the same theater), ease of operations, and credible system for repeated stable performance in theaters — are being conflated here. We should first separate issues that are the responsibility of exhibitor/distributor such as content, in-theatre management. That you raise the issue of digital print not reaching the theatre on time surprises me as it beats the whole purpose of going digital — is this based on the assumption that a Hard-Disk or other media will be physically transported to the exhibitor. This is a rather dicey and clumsy model. I agree that stability/quality of platform is a key issue. It is here I quoted UFO’s system, which delivered an excellent performance.

3 SEBASTIAN OWEN { 06.28.07 at 3:58 am }


4 SOURAV MUKHOPADHYAY { 08.28.07 at 11:33 am }


5 Hussen { 03.06.08 at 9:02 am }

To SOURAV MUKHOPADHYAY: you may visit UFO Moviez official web site: http://www.ufomoviez.com

6 Rupesh Sengar { 09.14.10 at 11:09 am }


i am running a movie theater in small town in chhattisgarh.
i am willing to install UFO there. so could you please share some details regarding that like how much it will cost us and what are the prerequisite to install it.

7 rohan { 04.15.11 at 8:59 am }

Scraabble entertainment is the only DCI compliant deployment entity in india!

8 Shreekanth Murkal { 05.27.11 at 9:23 am }

i own a cinema hall in a small town in karnataka, harapanahalli. I want to install 3D cinema in my theatre, kindly guide me through

9 Anil { 02.10.12 at 1:19 pm }

You Can Take Qube Digital Cinema For Better Performance.
And In Low Cost.

10 goutham { 05.27.12 at 9:27 pm }

Please can you tell of list of digital cinemas players in india or in karnataka

11 Shahul Hameed { 08.22.12 at 11:12 am }

Nice one Kishore but the Asian cinema aims for quantity not quality. UFO moviez is good but it doesn’t match or come anywhere near the quality of D-Cinema. E-cinema which most of Indian and few other Asian countries have adopted it but they cannot play any Hollywood film for which you need a d-cinema server which can play both 2D and 3D films with help of few Digital cinema projectors Barco, Christie, NEC, Sony,etc. Sony is the world leader in 4k projectors and probably be needing them. Future Hollywood films such as upcoming Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit and later on James Cameron’s Avatar 2 can be played only high frame rate 48fps or 60fps D-cinema projectors.

Importantly many Indian films are coming out on 3D so don’t look into e-cinema projectors as they will be faded away like 35mm prints too. Proudly Chennai based India’s Qube is one of the leaders in DCI complaint Digital cinema server with XP-D server with new enhanced 4k system which are installed in India’s first and complete D-Cinemas multiplex SPI Cinemas (formerly Sathyam) in Chennai.

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