Thursday, August 29, 2013

Digital conversion cost threatens rural theaters; five lucky drive-ins will get new projectors

When movie distributors stop printing reels of 35-millimeter film and convert all movies to digital, which some say could happen as early as next spring, many small-town theater owners will have to shell out a hefty sum to stay in business. And for local mom-and-pop operations, investing $70,000 per screen, plus the cost of renovating projecting rooms for equipment that needs to be in climate-controlled conditions, might be a little too expensive to keep the doors open -- especially for a drive-in theatre, which primarily operates during the summer, Michael Morain reports for the Des Moines Register. (Register photo: the Valle Drive-In in Newton, Iowa)

The United Drive-In Theater Owners Association estimates that 50 to 60 of the nation's roughly 350 drive-in theaters have already converted to digital, Morain writes. There is an industry incentive program that reimburses theater owners 80 percent of the cost of converting to digital, but some small business owners are struggling to find ways to drum up the money to convert, and those that can't afford the conversion could be left out in the cold.

Walt Effinger, who owns the Skyvue Drive-In, which has been open in central Ohio since 1948, told Morain, “You’ll be digital or you’ll close your doors. If you’re not doing enough business to justify the expense, you’re just going to have to close up.” The theater has already converted to digital. For those operations that can't afford the change, there's a Honda-sponsored online contest (with promotional video) that ends Sept. 9 that will award the top five vote-getters a new projector. (Read more) Ben Kleppinger of The Interior Journal in Stanford, Ky., wrote a story subtly promoting votes for the Stanford Drive-In.

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