In an important step in the evolution of digital cinema in the UK, independent exhibitor City Screen Picturehouse Cinemas is planning to commercially back the installation of five new digital screens.

The 18-cinema small chain (which has 50+ screens) has already seen the UK Film Council's Digital Screen Network install 18 digital machines across its sites in recent years. But with the DSN now completed in its latest phase, City Screen wanted to continue its own digital expansion.

'Where we do have digital machines, especially cinemas with two digital screens, we've had much more effective programming,' says Lyn Goleby, managing director of City Screen. 'For us, it's all about the flexibility of programming that the digital screens can deliver. It's completely compelling. And commercially speaking, it's about maximising revenues on our limited number of screens.'

The new five digital systems will be installed by the end of July in Clapham, Greenwich, Brixton, Stratford and Henley. They are 2K BARCO machines that are DCI-compliant and 3D compatible.

'Another five is certainly an expensive investment, so we can't go all-digital immediately,' Goleby told ScreenDaily.

Goleby didn't reveal the cost of all five installations, but she said: 'I've built cinemas for less. It's high six-figures.' The deals will be a mix of capitol and leasing, with City Screen funding it through its own resources.

Arts Alliance Media, who works with the UKFC on the DSN and is also a shareholder of City Screen, will organise and implement the digital expansion.

Arts Alliance, of course, is signing up distributors to help fund the next rollout of digital screens, in what is called the 'Virtual Print Fee' (VPF) model for distributors and exhibitors to work together in funding digital roll-out. Goleby noted that City Screen believed in those plans but didn't want to wait until those were up-and-running. 'We absolutely believe in the VPF model but while that's being talked about we just want to get on with it,' she said. 'It's not an experiment for us, it's a reality.'

The first new digital screen will be operational as of July 13, in time for the exhibitor's Summer Season programme of alternative content such as opera and ballet that is made possible by digital screens.

'Our programming has always been very eclectic anyway so it's only natural that we'd also expand into alternative content,' Goleby says.

'But it's not just about the alternative content - going digital helps give a long tail to smaller films as well, you can target a specific audience for a specific film without impacting all a cinema's screens and other programming. That's where it makes a difference.'