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Digital Movies to Replace Film by 2015




Sarah_Ackerman, courtesy Flickr

The standard 35 mm film we're all used to seeing in movie theaters will be replaced worldwide by digital technology in the next few years, and the hit blockbuster film "Avatar" is to blame for the shift, according to a new report.

A report from the IHS Screen Digest Cinema Intelligence Service said that 35 mm film, which has been the dominant projection format in movie theaters for more than 120 years, is nearing the end of its life, as the majority of cinema screens in the U.S. are expected to go digital in 2012.

In fact, IHS expects 35 mm will be replaced by digital technology globally by 2015, the report said. By the end of 2012, 35 mm film in movie theaters is expected to decline to 37 percent on a global scale, which is a dramatic decline from 68 percent of global cinema screens in 2010.

“Movie theaters now are undergoing a rapid transition to digital technology, spurred initially by the rising popularity of 3-D films ,” said David Hancock, head of film and cinema research at IHS.

“The release of 'Avatar' in December 2009 represented the pivotal moment for digital cinema, with digital technology forming the bedrock of the modern cinema environment,” Hancock added. “Before 'Avatar,' digital represented only a small portion of the market, accounting for 15 percent of global screens in 2009.” [Read: 10 Profound Innovations Ahead ]

After "Avatar," digital film technology grew 17 percent in both 2010 and 2011, compared to single-digit increases during the previous years. "Avatar" also increased the demand for digital 3-D technology.

In the U.S., IHS expects that there won’t be any mainstream usage of 35 mm film in 2013. Western Europe is expected to change to digital by the end of 2014, and the rest of the world will then be under pressure to follow the trend, the report said.

"While the era of 35 mm will end at this time, there will still be some older films circulating in print for some cinemas," Hancock said. "Ironically, these last prints may have a high value as they circulate among a relatively small number of theaters dedicated to keeping the legacy of traditional film alive."

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