Cinema ready for digital era, says advertising executive


The cinema industry - whose death was predicted with the advent of television and video-recorders - is preparing to meet the challenge of digital television. Digital technology will offer the viewer hundreds of channels, many dedicated to film and many on a pay-per-view basis.

The cinema industry's strategy is in place, according to Ms Anna Slevin of Carlton Screen Advertising, and it is the "megaplex". She told the annual media conference of the Institute of Advertising Practitioners in Ireland (IAPI) in Killarney at the weekend the multiplex, as we know it, is old hat.

The megaplex - with 20 to 30 screens, restaurants, shops and leisure facilities - is the movie experience of the millennium, she said. Such megaplexes are mushrooming in Europe and North America.

Next year, Warner is to open a 30-screen site in Birmingham with a capacity for 6,000 people and a bowling alley, night club and interactive audio-visual presentations.

The South African company Ster Kinekor plans to include Ireland in its European launch of "artplexes", dedicated to showing independently produced films from around the world.

The international trend now is to relocate cinemas in city centres, reversing the "suburbanisation" of recent decades.

Dublin is no exception. Rathmines will have a six-screen cinema in the Swan Centre next year, and UCI's 15-screen development at the Carlton site on O'Connell Street is progressing. It will have restaurants, radio and television studios and the most modern cinema design.

Film itself will be part of the digital age, with films made in digital format and distributed by satellite, meaning huge savings in the cost of processing and distributing prints to cinemas - estimated to cost $500 million annually.

Computerisation will allow films to be switched from screen to screen at the touch of a button in answer to consumer demand, and advertising can be inserted electronically at any stage in the programme.

New movies like Titanic can become big news events in themselves, Ms Slevin said, demonstrating the enduring "power and pleasure of big-screen entertainment".

With digital television already launched in Britain by BSkyB - and Cablelink and RTE's digital coming on stream in 1999 and 2000 respectively - the IAPI's vice-chairman, Mr Steve Shanahan, said he was still to be convinced digital was the biggest revolution in television.

Many in the advertising industry fear digital television, with its many channels, will make it harder to target viewers as they tune into "niche" channels reflecting very specific programme interests.

But that will not happen, according to Mr Andrew McIntosh of Flextech TV, Britain's biggest supplier of cable and satellite television channels. Rather than "fragment", the audiences would "segment", he said, with about 12 channels accounting for 80 per cent of viewing.