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Studios and exhibitors unveil digital cinema network

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Hollywood's long-awaited digital makeover took another big step forward at the multiplex on Wednesday.

A coalition of studios and theaters chains announced the launch of a digital and satellite delivery system to beam movies, as well promotional content and live events, directly into theaters.

The Digital Cinema Distribution Coalition said its distribution platform "went live" last month and will serve 17,000 screens at 1,200 theater locations across North America this year.

The coalition said it plans to distribute 31 films over its network this year, including "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire" from Lionsgate and "Frozen" from Walt Disney Animation Studios.

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The digital delivery of movies into theaters has long been the goal of studios and theaters, most of which have already installed digital projectors in theaters.

Currently, most movies are delivered on digital hard drives and physically shipped to theaters across the country, a costly and time-consuming process.

The new system significantly reduces the costs of showing movies in theaters. Ten to 15 years ago, it cost about $2,500 to deliver a film print to a theater. By comparison, it costs between $50 and $125 to distribute a movie print over the new digital platform.

The digital cinema coalition also named Randolph Blotky as its chief executive. Blotky is a former senior entertainment industry executive, attorney and physicist who previously served as the group's principal consultant.

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“This is a truly historic moment,”  Blotky, a former Warner Bros. executive, said in a statement. “DCDC represents the culmination of years of incredibly complex work, as well as the extraordinary contributions of so many visionary executives throughout the film and technology industries."

The digital cinema network is a “smart pipe” made up of sophisticated electronics, software and hardware, including satellites, high-speed terrestrial links and hard drives.

The coalition said it will cover the costs of installing and maintaining satellites and other equipment in theaters.

Deluxe/EchoStar LLC is the primary service provider, with installation and maintenance services from Hughes, a provider of digital television entertainment and satellite and wireless systems and services.

The Digital Cinema Distribution Coalition was formed by the nation's top three theaters chains -- Regal, AMC and Cinemark -- along with Universal Pictures and Warner Bros. to provide the industry with the latest digital distribution technologies.

The Walt Disney Company, Sony Pictures, 20th Century Fox, Paramount Pictures and Lionsgate have joined the coalition, as have Southern Theatres and National Amusements.

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Richard.verrier@latimes.com

twitter: @rverrier

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