In a unique high-tech venture, a Singapore firm has won a multi-million dollar deal
to retrofit India's movie theatres with digital projectors. The company will also
convert Indian-made feature films into a digital format that will save thousands
of dollars per movie in distribution costs.
The firm is GDC Technology Ltd, part of the Global Digital Creations Holdings
Group. It was set up in 2000 by former Nanyang Technological University professor
Man-Nang Chong, who is now based in Hong Kong.
GDC will retrofit 400 movie theatres across India by April 2004. The first theatre,
in Mumbai, will start operating under the new format - the first in India - by the
end of this month. To do this, GDC has set up a joint venture with Adlabs Films,
India's largest motion picture processing lab. Adlabs is listed on the Bombay Stock
Exchange and the National Stock Exchange.
'Our target is to retrofit 1,500 e-cinemas in India by 2007,' GDC Technology's
Singapore-based head of marketing, Benjamin Ng, told BT. 'A 35mm movie reprint would
cost more than US$1,000. Our technology would cut that cost to a fraction of the
amount, especially in the long run.'
Retrofitting the cinema will involve GDC installing its digital film server and
digital projector in the theatre. 'The feature film itself will be stored in a high-capacity
disk drive double the size of a cigarette packet,' said Mr Ng. 'This will be couriered
to the cinema. Once the movie's run has ended, another digital pack will be couriered
and the old made obsolete. The entire movie will be digitally encrypted, so it will
be impossible for pirates to copy it.'
Mr Ng would not say how much it will cost to retrofit a cinema hall. Industry
sources said it may range from US$80,000 to more than US$125,000 depending upon
the size of the hall, acoustics and other factors. If it averages US$100,000, the
retrofitting exercise for 400 theatres alone would mean gross revenues of US$40
Adlabs' managing director Manmohan Shetty said: 'E-cinema is the way to go in
India because the movie industry in India itself is unique. We're planning to offer
through various distributors one digital movie a week. This would be a tremendous
business opportunity for the cinema operators and a real treat to the movie audience.'
As for movie producers, they send a master copy of the movie to the firm to convert
to a digital format. 'Our telecine facility will digitise it using GDC's Digital
Super Realism Film Agile Encoder to code, encrypt and package high-resolution files
on hard disk drives,' Dr Chong said.
'The digital release or print can be produced almost without human intervention
within 24 hours.' It costs about US$50,000 to digitise a full-feature movie. India
has about 10,000 cinema theatres and is the world's most prolific producer of feature
films at 1,000 a year. However, very few prints are made in the first week of the
movie's release. This encourages piracy. The digital distribution method will solve
the distribution and piracy problem.