The big topic at this year's Cinema Expo was 3D cinema. As studios have started to throw their weight behind three-dimensional films, European exhibitors were encouraged to pick up the pace of 3D installation in cinemas in order to "save" the cinematic world.

Around a dozen 3D films are scheduled for release in the US in 2009 and exhibitors were given a sneak peak at a few of the titles, led by DreamWorks Animation's Monsters Vs Aliens. At the Paramount Pictures International product presentation, Jeffrey Katzenberg, CEO of DreamWorks, hailed 3D as the "greatest tool for movie-goers in the past 70 years" before showing audiences a few scenes from the sci-fi spoof, shown in Real D 3D (one of the leading 3D specialists in the US and the digital projection technology behind the $16.3m worldwide grossing U2 3D).

Katzenberg insisted the new 3D tools available were not gimmicks or tricks. "Digital 3D can create a sense of depth that pulls audiences into the story, making the whole experience more visceral and heightening the feeling of the movie."

Reaping the benefits of 3D

At the conference, Twentieth Century Fox co-presidents Paul Hanneman and Tomas Jegeus encouraged the move toward 3D installation, arguing exhibitors would be able to reap the benefits of the third instalment of Ice Age: Dawn Of The Dinosaurs (out in the US on July 1, 2009), which is fully produced in 3D, before showing a teaser for the film.

And Walt Disney International president Anthony Marcoly touted the company's line-up including its 2009 release Bolt, a 3D animated feature about a dog who believes he has superpowers. Disney now has five 3D movies in different stages of production.

Meanwhile, digital cinema company Arts Alliance Media announced it will offer 3D showings of the Royal Opera House's Hansel And Gretel in its 2009 line-up of digital cinema programming for Europe and Australia.

But while most hailed the newest 3D technology and emphasised it was no longer a "passing fad", delegates in Amsterdam were also reminded that film quality was paramount and consumers would only return to 3D screens if the material on offer was of a high standard.

Anne-Marie Dumas, senior vice-president at Nielsen PreView, said 3D cinema was a "three-legged-stool operation", requiring co-operation not only from exhibitors and distributors, but consumers as well.

She added that the faster exhibitors and distributors took on board 3D cinema, the sooner consumers would adopt it. "The lines are blurring between home theatre and real theatres," she said.

"Homes are starting to catch up with the theatre experience - screen sizes are increasing and simultaneously there are more choices available, including digital, cable and DVD. Even surround-sound is starting to rival what is offered in the cinema."

A survey conducted by Nielsen found that one in every four cinema-goers have stopped going to the movies due to a drop in quality and an increase in prices.

Dumas suggested that while moving to 3D is expensive and takes time as it means moving to digital, it could be the "saving voice" for cinema, offering audiences something new and different. She even compared it to the transition from black and white to colour.

Based on analysis in the US - which accounts for 80% of 3D installation in the world - Nielsen found 5% of people in the US did not even realise 3D existed, despite having been around for nearly a century. A further 35% were aware of 3D but chose not to go, while 60% had been to a 3D film.

She urged increased awareness and education in the medium, saying there are 4,000 current or planned 3D installations to date.

Dumas added that JP Morgan forecasts there will be 7,000 3D installations by 2010, marking a 10% increase in attendance along with a $3.50 increase in ticket prices, which would translate to a 60% increase in revenue.

But while there was an apparent consensus that 3D and digital are both major factors in future growth in the cinematic world, only time can tell whether the numbers will match the forecasts.