Digital cinema is inevitable but I no longer believe it is a good thing." That was the surprising conclusion of a senior European figure this week who had once been an advocate if not a downright enthusiast for the switch to D-cinema.

His is not a lone voice. Those who once spoke on platforms about the digital revolution changing the industry for the better are now wondering - as happens in all revolutions - whether the casualties of their cause are too high. In this case, that means the large number of small cinemas which cannot afford to make the digital switchover under current financial arrangements.

There's no one quite so pessimistic as a disillusioned revolutionary, so one should be careful to balance the potential benefits against the fears. After all, in an ever harder battle for customer time, increasing choice and creating a spectacular experience seem as vital as ever.

And let's be clear, the first part of the equation cited above is undeniable: digital cinema is inevitable. Its future was decided as soon as the studios gave the transition their backing. The amount of investment made in 3D and the cinema of spectacle in general is just too big a commitment for them to change track. Indeed, it is fair to assume the studios will be putting on the pressure for more speed.

Hollywood can hardly be blamed for looking after its own interests and the indies certainly had plenty of warning of the need to plan ahead. Yet the indulgence of thinking the revolution was always five years away was too often taken as a reason to procrastinate and now reality is beginning to bite.

The change that is beginning to scare the industry is that very significant numbers of exhibitors are at risk because they don't have a financial model in place to manage the transition. It's becoming increasingly obvious that there will be heavy casualties in the digital revolution if some serious thinking does not take place now.

The dream of digital change is that it put power into more hands and increased the choice for cinema owners. It was a democratising dream. But instead, the penny has dropped - that there is a real danger the unequal relationship between the studios and the indies is likely to be accentuated by D-cinema, not reduced (see page 6). It's simple maths - the cinemas most at risk are those that show the bulk of European films, and that isn't just an issue for exhibition.

Governments at national and European level have made clear that the taxpayer will not be allowed to bail out the cinema business. Subsidies for productions can be and are justified on the basis of cultural value; cinema closures might blow a hole in that argument. How can you justify spending public money on product on cultural grounds while the opportunities for taxpayers to actually see that work are falling'

Why hasn't this been higher up the agenda' Partly, perhaps, because some of the over-enthusiasm of the early adopters simply skirted over the issue; and then there are parts of the industry that have been in denial, just hoping the whole darn digital circus would move on.

The industry at the sexy end of production has too often looked down at the customer-facing part of the business as mere commerce - popcorn sales. But this is now among the most political issues for the industry today. That's why everything worth hearing about it is these days expressed off the record.

This will have to be tackled head on. Governments won't simply come in and sort out the mess in most countries but they can and should be partners with the industry in what is a social as well as a business issue.

The industry should take this seriously because cinema remains its foundation stone and surely a vital part of its argument for cultural exception.

But ministers in European governments who need reminding of the social role of cinema might like to visit the archives from just a generation ago and look at how much the fraying, yellowing posters on disused theatres became an emblem of depression and decline.