A digital delivery network from Deluxe Digital Cinema and Hewlett-Packard aims to connect some 8,000 European cinemas. Neal Romanek reports.

The UK’s Deluxe Digital Cinema, in partnership with Hewlett-Packard, is aiming to change European film distribution with a terrestrial delivery network that plans to connect more than 8,000 sites in the UK and Europe. The network will allow Deluxe to distribute on behalf of its clients — which include Fox, Sony, Paramount, Universal and others — directly to cinemas.

“The real end goal was for electronic distribution that was terrestrial, as opposed to physical, ie, hard drives,” says Richard Fish, commercial director at Deluxe, “and it couldn’t cost any more than current delivery mechanisms. At the end of the day, getting a hard drive to site has proven to be cost effective and efficient, so to bring a new solution to market means we have to work within the boundaries of what it currently costs the distributor and the size of the file they can move by satellite or by hard drive.”

The new network will be able to deliver a 500GB digital cinema package (DCP), with average connectivity of 50MBS. “We can deliver a terabyte too,” Fish says, “but that will just take a little bit longer.”

Deluxe managing director Ken Biggins and digital cinema managing director Peter Wright had championed the idea of a digital distribution network for some years, but the technology was too expensive and too slow. When the right combination of fast speed and low cost arrived, Deluxe approached Hewlett-Packard. “We had quite a detailed cost model when we went into negotiations with Hewlett-Packard,” says Laurence Claydon, technical director at Deluxe. “They came back to us and that opened a few more doors than we expected. It made something that was a near-possibility into a reality.”

Deluxe is being aggressive in rolling out the network. With the help of Hewlett-Packard’s field engineering and support teams, the company aims to be connected to 6,000 sites over the next 24 months, beginning with the UK and France then spreading to other European territories. Deluxe admits it is asking a lot of European telecommunications companies. Claydon says: “We need this network to be what the internet will be in about 10 years’ time, but we need it now.”

Hewlett-Packard has a long track record of involvement with telecoms and content delivery network providers and was a natural partner choice for Deluxe. With the company’s help, Deluxe is riding on the next generation of broadband roll-out across Europe, choosing the sites where they can get the best connectivity and piggy-backing on these new deployments as they happen.

Claydon says the Deluxe-Hewlett-Packard network will be far greener than current hard-drive distribution: “At the moment, we’re still shipping hard drives in vans and ships and planes. Ultimately, it will reduce the carbon footprint of feature film distribution, which will be welcomed by everyone. Electronic distribution via a network will only get cheaper and faster, whereas fuel prices are going to keep rising.”

Tailored to local markets

With hard drives and satellite, distributors need to deliver to a minimum number of sites to make the unit cost viable. The point-to-point nature of the Deluxe network will allow for greater localisation and flexibility without the number of screens on which a film runs being any financial barrier.

Claydon thinks the network will lower the cost of entry to many independent and local films. “Because we’re putting together a European network, a lot of it will be based on local content for each territory, so we’ve partnered with vendors in territories, like Eclair in France, to increase volumes, making the network financially viable. In a lot of territories we distribute in, local content is a significant portion of the market.”

Fish agrees the network will allow exhibitors to target local audiences more successfully. “If your cinema is in a seaside town, for example, over certain seasons you could target certain demographics coming in. A cinema could run different themes — films from the ’60s or ’80s or an animation season during school holidays. It will certainly allow exhibitors more flexibility, but our main aim is to distribute more efficiently on behalf of content owners.”