Despite ongoing concerns over piracy, the slow rate of digital conversion overseas compared to North America and incremental short term costs accruing from that process, international distributors were in bullish mood about the market on the opening day of ShoWest.

In his keynote address UPI president David Kosse reminded delegates that 2007 was Universal's first billion dollar year since 2003 and said that the decision by Universal and Paramount to go their separate ways following the break-up of UIP had 'given us a greater insight into our consumers' desires.'

Kosse took time to hail the online arena and its vast opportunities for creativity and interaction with end users. He cited a recent clip of Universal's summer release Mamma Mia sung by the characters from Fox's animated hit Alvin And The Chipmunks as an example of engaging material that reached millions of eyeballs.

'Ingenious' Copyright breach' Or simply a great marketing opportunity'' Kosse said, before relating that a partnership with Google on last year's campaign for The Bourne Ultimatum was viewed by 27m people within a period of 15 days.

'As a community we need to look beyond this year and question and revise our ways of doing business because if we don't, our customers will do it for us.'

A seminar on the Australian market threw up some interesting statistics, in particular that the territory is second only to China in the number of pirated discs seized - 675 raids last year yielded 2.6m discs - while a meagre 1% of the continent's 1,900 screens have been digitised compared to 7.6% in the UK (3,440 screens), 9.1% in North America (39,000), 16.2% in Singapore (173) and 50% in Luxembourg (26).

Panelists bemoaned the fact that local product accounted for 8% of releases at the Australian box office last year and claimed a mere 4% market share. Stephen Basil-Jones, Sony's managing director and executive vice president of Australia and New Zealand, warned that rising P&A and advertising costs Down Under made it 'unviable and unprofitable' to release films in the $25-50m budget range.

In other ShoWest news today:

IMAX Corporation has concluded the largest deal in its history, agreeing to install 35 IMAX digital projection systems across central and South America and the Caribbean over the next six years.

The deal with Giencourt Investments, a member of the RACIMEC International Group, follows on from the 100-theatre North American with AMC announced in December. RACIMEC will provide an initial down payment and a firm commitment to install a minimum of 35 IMAX theatres with fixed payment dates and opening dates.

Locations will be decided in tandem with RACIMEC's partners in exhibition, development and entertainment. In 2005 RACIMEC signed a deal to install three IMAX theatre systems into new entertainment retail developments in Chile and Venezuela. Two IMAX theatres are being built and developed in Santiago, Chile, in addition to one in Caracas, Venezuela, and all are expected to open by mid-2009.

Christie announced that leading Canadian exhibitor Cineplex Entertainment has embarked on the largest digital cinema conversion in the country. The rollout will result in 25 theatres across Canada being equipped with Christie CP2000 DLP Cinema(r) projectors featuring REAL D 3D technology. The new wave of conversions added to Cineplex's existing 18 digital cinema locations will bring to 43 the total number of Christie Digital Cinema projectors installed in Cineplex Entertainment theatres across Canada.

Shanghai Film Group Corporation (SFG) and UFO India Limited have chosen Dolby Laboratories to bring more digital cinema systems to China and India. SFG will equip its Shanghai United Cinema Line with 100 Dolby Cinema Systems, one of most influential cinema circuits across the provinces and cities of China. In addition, SFG to date has installed Dolby 3D Digital Cinema at its Chengdu Theatre.