Studios and theaters seen announcing digital deal soon

Thu Sep 25, 2008 7:16pm EDT
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By Sue Zeidler

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Walt Disney, Paramount, Twentieth Century Fox and Universal are soon expected to announce a long-sought $1.1 billion digital cinema deal that Hollywood hopes will boost attendance, cut costs and enable more 3-D viewing, sources close to the deal said on Thursday.

The studios declined to comment, but sources with knowledge of the talks said the deal to help co-finance the upgrade for a group of movie chains was virtually complete, with an announcement expected within days or weeks.

Long delayed by debate over who should pay for the system, digital cinema offers a potential solution to declining movie attendance at a lower ongoing cost.

Fox, a unit of News Corp was the first to sign the deal this summer, but its participation was contingent on other studios agreeing. Early this month, sources said General Electric Co's Universal and Walt Disney Co had come on board and that Viacom Inc's, Cinemark Holdings Inc and AMC Entertainment Inc, who operate 14,000 screens -- to reach a deal to help finance the theater upgrades.

DCIP would not comment.

"Things are progressing well," said Dick Westerling, a spokesman for Regal, the nation's largest theater exhibitor, when asked if a deal had been reached.

"Technological change is very important and we're certain this will move the needle."

DCIP was formed over a year ago and first hoped for a deal by late 2007, but talks hit snags over terms requiring studios, exhibitors and content providers to pay usage and other fees to help pay off loans provided by institutions such as JPMorgan Chase & Co to buy and install new digital equipment.   Continued...

<p>A Disney employee heads to work at the entrance to the Walt Disney Co. and Walt Disney Studios in Burbank, California July 19, 2006. REUTERS/Fred Prouser</p>