Hollywood's increasing investment in exclusive 3D movies is driving the surge in custom-made screens, writes Diana Lodderhose.

The number of digital 3D cinema screens has nearly trebled during the first six months of 2007, suggesting exhibitors are stepping up to meet Hollywood studios' increasing investment in exclusive 3D movies.

According to a Screen Digest report, The Business Case For Digital Cinema Exhibition, there were 258 digital 3D screens worldwide at the end of 2006 and now there are 750, with 85% in the US and high activity in South Korea and Australia.

Germany has 22 screens, the highest in Europe, while the UK trails behind with just seven screens.

Globally, there are 41 cinema chains in 21 different territories that are equipped with at least one digital screen. The report predicts that by 2009, 5,000 screens - more than 5% of the global total - will be digital 3D, with the US housing three-quarters of them.

Looking at the first four digital 3D releases - Chicken Little, Monster House, The Nightmare Before Christmas 3D and Meet The Robinsons - data shows that in opening weekends 3D screens generate around three times more revenue - and 2.4 admissions - compared with standard two-dimensional screens, making a strong case for a rapid rollout of 3D screens.

And exhibitors will need a steady stream of 3D movies - at least three per year - in order to see any returns on investment in equipment.

But UK exhibitor Vue Entertainment believes something dramatic needs to happen with digital rollouts outside the US market in order to push exhibitors to install more screens.

Vue COO Steve Knibbs said: '3D is great and we have certainly had a good experience with the films we've shown to date. But it's not a panacea to cure all ills.

'What will boost 3D will be high-profile films. Upcoming films such as Beowulf, Avatar and the DreamWorks line-up are the impetus for exhibitors to install more screens.'