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Think Out Loud

Independent Theaters: Go Digital or Go Home

Pete Springer/OPB

For the past few years, major movie studios have been signalling their intention to end 35 mm prints in favor of digital copies. The move saves studios thousands in printing and shipping costs, and allows for a clearer picture quality.

For movie theaters, however, the conversion is costly, estimated at between $70,000-150,000 per screen. Large corporate theater chains showing first-run movies were early adopters of the switch to digital. They were helped out by the fact that they got breaks on buying digital projectors in bulk and were given financial support from the studios that allowed them to recoup most or all of the conversion costs. But small independent theaters, many of whom are second-run and operate on thin margins, have not received the same kind of assistance from the studios, and it looks like many of these theaters will have to close if they can’t come up with the money to switch to digital—they simply won’t have films to show. 

Recently, many of these theaters have been turning to places like Kickstarter to try and raise money. Now it’s in the hands of their patrons. 

Are you an independent theater owner? What’s been your experience dealing with the switch to digital?


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