By Russell Wintner
For those who may have missed it, Monday and Tuesday of this week was the first of what might well become an annual event in Hollywood, the 3D Entertainment Summit. Planned in part by The Hollywood Reporter's past publisher, Bob Dowling, the event lived up to his reputation for providing the industry with quality, information-packed events pertinent to the Industry's cutting edge issues. The event was a veritable who's who of the 3D community with panels that touched on everything from how to make it, how to show it and what to include in it; "it" of course being all stereo 3D entertainment.
Many of the presenters admitted to drinking plenty of their home brewed Kool Aid, but still provided several solid reasons for why digital 3D (with the emphasis on digital) is not likely to be another passing fad but an entire paradigm shift in the way all visual content will eventually be consumed. Views covered a range but all were positive. At one extreme, Jeffrey Katzenberg evangelized 3D as something that will happen, must happen and needs to include everything from animated CG to serious drama (My Dinner With Andre seemed to be everyone's favorite example). The most reserved outlook was from NATO's John Fithian, who was a bit more conservative in his view of the appropriate place for 3D, but even he softened on his prior positioning by positing that 3D provides the value-add exhibitors needed to truly embrace the digital cinema transition.
A few speakers mentioned similar signs indicating that the time was right for 3D to become a permanent part of every film makers' toolkit: demand from audiences and exhibitors; genuine desire by leading filmmakers to use 3D to tell their stories and the subsequent support they have received from studios; and finally the money to make it happen. I'll add to that by including that we now have a level of technology which makes the creation and exhibition of 3D content simple and extremely reliable with breathtaking results, which, as everyone pointed out, could not have happened had it not been for digital cinema.
Let's look at some of the numbers these folks spewed out over the two day confab. Charlotte Jones, an analyst with Screen Digest in the U.K., noted that there have been 10 3D releases to date, 6 of them this year and 4 of them released in 3D only. At the same time, there has been a 600% increase in 3D digital screens just this past year. Every major studio has or will have had a 3D release by 2009. And during the 2-day event, estimates ranged from 12 to 15 digital releases for 2009 with more than that already green lit for production.
Disney's Mark Zoradi gave an hour presentation covering Disney's strong commitment to 3D with some sensational clips, some of which have never been seen outside the studio, that gave even more credence to his claim that every CG movie going forward from Disney will be available in 3D. And why not? He cited actual experience from Chicken Little, Meet the Robinsons, and Bolt where each consistently demonstrated a two and one-half to one advantage over their 2D counterparts in both admissions and revenues. Others agreed with examples of their own. When was the last time exhibitors could increase ticket prices as much as 40% and still rake in audiences at 2½ times normal attendance?
And, of course it doesn't stop with movies. Several people discussed alternative content including a panel moderated by BOXOFFICE Media Publisher Peter Cane. There was plenty of talk about past NBA games, the upcoming NFL game, and the surprise announcement by Fox Sports TV Group chairman-CEO David Hill of Fox's intentions for a theatrical presence of the Bowl Championship Series in 3D.
If there is a problem, there is one on which everybody agreed: not enough screens. Only a small number of existing digital cinema installations have been outfitted with a 3D playback system. So, even if the continuation of the rollout is slowed down by the sad state of the economy, there are still plenty of screens to provide room for the 3D content that is coming. It seems to me that the challenge has been made. Will exhibitors respond?