For the best image, film is stil the best choice, said Dark Knight director Christopher Nolan at a press conference yesterday. But a new report from industry analysts IHS Screen Digest suggests most cinemas will convert completely to digital by 2015.
The change is being driven by emerging factors in the international market. Once the initial investment has been made, it's much cheaper to run a digital cinema, so they are a particulaly popular option in poorer countries. But it's the massive growth of the industry in China that is really tipping the balance, especially as it is intensified by the craze for 3D viewing. Worldwide, over half of cinemas now have digital projectors and the figure is growing rapidly.
Also affecting this issue are production costs. A fivefold rise in the price of silver over the past year has significantly increased the cost of producing traditional film, and producers have been unable to prevent most of that cost being passed on to the consumer, a significant concern for them in a declining market. Meanwhile, digital cameras are getting significantly cheaper and have been celebrated for democratising film. It's now much cheaper for would-be filmmakers to start out. Ironic, then, that it is the independent, art film market to which the traditional film industry is looking for its survival. Independent cinemas in the US and Europe are expected to hang onto their film projectors for some years yet, regardless of the wider trend.
"The problem with the push to digital is it has been given a consumer aspect. It’s not what is best for the film," said Nolan, lamenting the change.
IHS also noted that the preference for digital convenience extends to the home viewing market. Their research suggests that Americans will spend more on digital film downloads this year than on DVDs and Blu-ray discs.