MINNEAPOLIS, Aug. 26 (UPI) -- U.S. movie theaters with antiquated projection equipment must convert to costly digital technology or face extinction, an industry official says.
Minneapolis Star Tribune reported Saturday that by the end of the coming year the six major movie studios will only release new titles in digital format. The old 35-millimeter film format won't be an option.
That means theaters with mechanical projectors face spending $70,000 to $85,000 apiece to upgrade to digital versions.
The National Association of Theatre Owners estimates 20 percent of the nation's cinemas, about 10,000 screens, will go dark. Simply put, association President John Fithian, says, movie theaters must "convert or die."
For Steven Mann, who owns 10 theaters in the Twin Cities metropolitan area, the cost of staying alive was $4 million.
For Joe Minjares, who owns Parkway Theater in Minneapolis, says getting financing can be a problem.
"Maybe we can get vault prints from the studios and show old movies, but I'm not sure what the market is for that," he said.
Tom Letness, owner of the 86-year-old Heights Theatre in Columbia Heights, said while studios are offering financing to help defray the cost of makeovers, "they really don't care if single-screen theaters go away."
The economic benefits of digital production are clear for the studios, which, by one estimate, spent $850 million a year making film prints and $450 million shipping the the bulky canisters to theaters, the Star Tribune said.
"It's always been about the studio. For the typical film, digital is neither necessary nor desirable," said Ted Mundorff, president of Landmark Theatres, the nation's largest independent chain.