Digital cinema provider GDC Technology announced a slew of deals to equip Asian exhibitors with 3D technology, provided by RealD, as the three-day CineAsia conference drew to a close.

The announcement follows an agreement signed between GDC and RealD in April 2009 under which GDC became a distributor for RealD’s 3D platform in Asia. Under the terms of this agreement, GDC handles sales inquiries, maintenance, installation and on-going operations for RealD.

The new customers include Hong Kong’s Broadway Circuit and UA Cinemas, Indonesia’s Blitz Theatres, Taiwan’s Ambassador and Singapore’s Shaw Cinemas.

“The 3D market in Asia is poised for high growth mirroring the trend in the US and Europe. Our tie-up with RealD will further consolidate GDC’s position as a market leader in Asia, offering comprehensive digital cinema solutions in 3D,” said GDC CEO Dr. Man-Nang Chong.

Asia currently has around 1,200 3D screens, which lags behind the US and Europe, but has been accelerating with the release of high-profile 3D movies such as A Christmas Carol (pictured) and Avatar.

GDC also recently signed deals with Hong Kong’s UA and Broadway to supply both chains with DCI-compliant digital cinema equipment using the virtual print fee (VPF) financing scheme (see related story).

This follows the VPF agreements that GDC struck with major US studios – including Fox, Paramount, Universal, Sony and Disney – which were announced at CineAsia last year. Under these deals, the studios will make financial contributions for a limited period towards the cost of installing D-cinema systems.

GDC’s announcement comes at a critical juncture for the Asian exhibition industry – as it became clear during CineAsia, the sector is relatively robust, but also fragmented, and needs to move quickly on decisions about technical standards and financing models as the world converts to D-cinema and 3D.

Following the conference’s first day focus on mainland China, a series of “digital updates” revealed the pace of D-cinema rollout across the region. While GDC’s VPF arrangements, which are available across the region, have so far been taken up by exhibitors in Hong Kong, third-party integrators are also starting to gain traction in Korea and India.

These include Digital Cinema Korea (DCK), a joint venture between Korean exhibitors CJ CGV and Lotte which has helped finance 70% of country’s 536 D-cinema installations using the VPF model, and India’s Scrabble Entertainment, which has installed 200 D-cinema screens of which 50 are 3D. In Japan, exhibitors have been financing conversion themselves, although Sony Electronics is now promoting schemes which should speed up development.

CineAsia also featured a panel on the Hong Kong film industry, a major supplier of Chinese-language films to the East Asia region, as it faces various challenges and opportunities – including the opening of the mainland market, digital conversion and shrinking markets for the industry’s traditional ghost, gambling and gangster movies, which have a hard time passing mainland censorship.

While most Hong Kong films are now made in Mandarin and aimed at the booming mainland market, panellists said they could still find a market for traditional Cantonese-language fare. Shaw Studios’ Lloyd Chao explained that Shaw’s recent production, Turning Point, a Cantonese-language crime drama that was turned down by mainland censors, had managed to recoup in Hong Kong.

Meanwhile, the success of films that do manage to pass mainland censorship, such as Wong Jing’s recent comedy On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, suggest that mainland audiences are warming up to product with a strong Hong Kong flavour.

Speakers also observed that Hong Kong has historically managed to quickly adapt to new market conditions – including new technology and changing regulations on the mainland. “It’s not just the rest of Asia but also the US and Europe that is interested in growth in China, and in recent productions our partners have found that Hong Kong is still the most effective platform for working with the mainland,” said Distribution Workshop’s Jeffrey Chan.

This year’s edition of CineAsia attracted around 380 delegates, a slight increase on last year, although the trade show was slightly smaller reflecting global downturn. The conference closes this evening (Dec 10) with an awards ceremony and dinner.