Shochiku and Warner Mycal, leading Japanese cinema circuits, have signed up to digital conversion with the Virtual Print Fee (VPF) programme offered by GDC, Asian server manufacturer and third-party facilitator, in collaboration with Japanese lighting conglomerate Ushio, also the owner of digital cinema projector manufacturer Christie. All projectors will be supplied by Christie while the servers will be supplied by GDC itself. The integration will be handled by Xebex, a subsidiary of Ushio, which includes a Network Operating Centre for exhibitors. In February 2011, Ushio established a wholly owned subsidiary Japan Digital Cinema Support (JDCS) to manage the VPF environment in Japan for Ushio, such as collecting VPFs and monitoring equipment.
GDC's link up with Ushio is a new offer in Japanese market, after slow progress with the studio-backed VPF programme offered solely by GDC across Asia. GDC won backing from five studios in 2009 and had success in Hong Kong by signing up Broadway and UA circuit in December 2009. For GDC, the partnership shows the value of bringing on board an experienced local player in a market. European company XDC has done a similar thing by linking up with cross-territory integrator FTT. For Ushio, they have the benefit of access to GDC's studio backing without having to negotiate their own deals, although there would have been prior discussion with the US studios.
Ushio are aiming for 60 per cent of the Japanese screen base by March 2014. Shochiku currently operate 32 movie theatres and 305 screens (including joint ventures), but only the multiplex screens directly owned by Shochiku (22 sites and 225 screens) including the Movix banner are the subject of this deal. This equals 6.6 per cent of the Japanese screen base. Warner Mycal owns and operates 60 sites with 496 screens which is 14.5 per cent of the screen base. At end 2010, there were 980 digital screens in Japan (28.8 per cent of the screen base), of which 763 were 3D screens.
There has been movement in the Japanese digital cinema market outside of the 3D impetus. In August 2010, Sony signed up the largest Japanese exhibitor Toho to its global digital cinema rollout programme, using its 4K projection technology. Toho controls 545 screens in Japan (or 16 per cent of the screen base and not including jointly owned screens) and the installation is expected to be complete by December 2012. In March 2010, European digital cinema services company Arts Alliance Media entered into a strategic partnership with Japanese rollout aspirant Broadmedia which aimed at helping the Japanese company with research, expertise and probably most importantly the Arts Alliance Theatre Management System. Broadmedia is one of the shareholders in the Digital Cinema Club, which offers digital cinema deployment services to Japanese exhibitors.
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