Dutch independent chain the Amsterdam Booking Company (ABC)has signed a digital cinema rollout deal with Arts Alliance Media (AAM)to convert 68 screens in 20 theatres.

It is the first virtual print fee (VPF) funded rollout in the Netherlands but the move may prove more significant for other reasons.

  • AAM will hope it represents a significant breakthrough in a stalled D-cinema conversion programme in Europe.
  • It offers a vote of confidence in the potential for VPF deals for independents after a period when there has been a big debate about whether smaller theatres could afford to make the change.
  • And it also suggests that 3D can be a commercial driver for change.

Technicians are already pushing hard to meet a February 11th deadline so thatABC screens will be ready for the release of Disney's 3D Bolt.

ABC then plans to follow that up with a flurry of 3D specials such as Monsters vs. Aliens (Dreamworks/Paramount), Up (Pixar/Disney), Ice Age 3 (Twentieth Century Fox), Planet 51 (Sony Pictures), Toy Story 3D (Pixar/Disney) and James Cameron's Avatar (Twentieth Century Fox).

The group will be banking that the Digital 3D screens will generate higher box office than standard screens, but the technology will offer greater flexibility too, as the deal covers the installation of a professional satellite network for the transmission of live events and encrypted content.

Not only does this represent another step toward critical mass for digital, it presents very immediate evidence that the indies believe the VPF business model can work in their favour and deliver a competitive advantage as well as flexible programming.

ABC has a 10% share of the Dutch market and as the owner, Paul Visser, explained, 'We see clearly what the future of cinema is going to be - digital, 3D and live events. AAM is the best partner to make that happen and enable us to be the first widespread movers in the Netherlands.'

As previously reported in ScreenDaily AAM argues that 'no cinema is too small and no country too remote' for VPF and AAM's CEO, Howard Kiedaisch, certainly believes that 68 screens is certainly another key milestone in the journey toward mass market coverage.

As Kiedaisch said, 'It's exciting to show that VPF can work for the small guys as well as the big guys. It's an aggressive step forward for Dutch independents and ABC will be ahead of everyone in the Netherlands. Their competitive advantage starts now with greater flexibility and the ability to show 3D and alternative content. We are now looking to piece together the same type of deal in our home market in the UK and other European territories. It can work, come one, come all, I say.'

Under the conditions of the agreement, AAM will create a fully integrated DCI-compliant digital cinema and satellite network within the ABC group of cinemas.

To date, AAM has installed 420 digital cinema screens in Europe across the UK, France, Spain and Norway.

The company is currently completing the 400-screen rollout in France's Circuit George Raymond (CGR Cinemas).

AAM was the first digital cinema provider in Europe to sign VPF-based deployment agreements with studios and exhibitors.