Brazil now boasts the first digital cinemas to operate on a regular basis in Latin America, with five screenings scheduled daily. A joint venture between exhibitor UCI and Brazilian technology integrator Teleimage, and sponsored by telecommunications company Intel, the second Intel Digital Theatre opened Friday March 29 in Sao Paolo following the launch of the first Intel Digital Theatre in Rio de Janeiro in December. Both are located at UCI multiplexes.

A third digital theatre is scheduled to open in the city of Cantinas which has a population of two million. According to Teleimage CEO Patrick Siaretta, the final objective is to transform all UCI sites into digital theatres at an average cost of $250,000 per screen. UCI currently runs 99 screens and will own 122 by the end of this year.

"We plan to open five digital screens in 2002 and then ramp it up to 25 next year" said Siaretta.

At present, ticket prices (averaging $4.00) to these digital screens are on a par with regular screens to encourage moviegoers. An exception is Star Wars Episode 2: Attack Of The Clones. The prequel will debut July 5th as a special event package which will include assigned seats, posters, popcorn and drinks.

At present, the joint venture is struggling with the lack of product in the digital format. While some films such as Ice Age and Time Machine were provided in the digital format, Teleimage did the 'Masterization' of some titles such as Training Day and Collateral Damage.

The digital theatres have screened local titles such as blockbuster Xuxa And The Dwarfs and Avassaladoras, both co-produced by Teleimage. "Masterization is one other service we can offer here at Teleimage. Studios will also save on costs as they will be paying in the local currency," said Siaretta. The dollar is currently at Reales 3.5.

Teleimage, also a content provider, is a branch of post production house Casablanca - touted as the world's 5th largest - which developed its own operational system, the Casablanca digital system. It co-produced 25 feature films in 2002. Teleimage also boasts experience in live broadcasting. Recent live broadcasts include the 10 day Rock in Rio festival and the Sydney Olympic Games with forthcoming events to include the World Cup in Korea/Japan and more than 300 local soccer matches of the local championship.

UCI launched operations in Brazil in 1996. Its 99 screens are distributed among nine complexes and six cities.