Small-town Silver Screen: How NEC Display’s leasing program helped me make the jump to digital

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Technology

In the 1970s, the town of Port Richey, a small Florida Gulf Coast community, welcomed its first cinema. Today that cinema still stands, but it has not been easy. Port Richey Cinema 6 has changed owners numerous times, and one owner even closed it down for quite some time in the ’90s.

Yet when I think of Cinema 6, none of that stands out as much as the fond memories I have of attending films there as a child, when the theatre was a real small-town silver screen. Creating similar memories with my family of seven is important to me. For these reasons, when the opportunity presented itself five years ago, I purchased my boyhood theatre and reopened it as a family-owned business. At the time I did not realize the extent of the impending transition to digital cinema, which is currently jeopardizing the future of older, small-town theatres like mine.

I did not come from a cinema background—far from it, in fact. Prior to owning my second-run, six-theatre movie house, I ran a Pizza Hut franchise, and even though I did not know much about the theatre business, I saw it as an opportunity. I just did not realize how much it would cost to keep up with the changing technologies.

Fast-forward to January 2015 when I was faced with a huge decision–keep feeding the beast that was my dying theatre business or shut my doors for good. The sad reality is many other small theatre owners across the country simply are not in the position to transition to new cinema technologies, even with attractive manufacturers’ rebates. A typical digital projector, for example, can run $25,000–affordable for a theatre chain, perhaps, but often a challenge for the owner-operator like me.

In addition, the number of movies using traditional film is significantly decreasing. As a result, I would receive movies that had already premiered at the big-name theatres much later or not at all because they were not available on 35mm film. This is just another factor defeating small-town theatres.

Meanwhile, small theatre owners shuttered their box offices due to competition from giant corporations operating megaplexes around the country and the limited resources and availability to adapt to changing moviegoer tastes.

In the same month when I was deciding whether to continue business or surrender to the lack of resources, NEC Display Solutions created its “Ticket to Digital” program. This special financing program provides qualifying theatres with 100 percent of the technology, as well as installation and support, necessary to convert to digital in an expedient, affordable way.

Needless to say, I was one of the lucky ones because Cinema 6 qualified for the Ticket to Digital program. I was able to get the digital projectors I needed to return vitality to my business.

With the Ticket to Digital program, I was able to convert all six theatres to digital by installing NEC Display NC900C digital-cinema projectors. Designed for theatres with small screens, NEC’s NC900C d-cinema projector delivers an enhanced theatre experience with pristine images. With its S2K chip set from Texas Instruments, it is the most compact 2K DCI-certified digital-cinema projector on the market.

In addition, the program package included projector bases and the full installation. Ray Callahan with Callahan Digital completed the installation and had us up and running with no downtime, which was a huge relief.

Now the opportunities are endless and I feel a new security in the fact that Cinema 6 has been revitalized to the point where the competition is not as daunting as it once was. The first month after the implementation brought Cinema 6 the same amount of business as it cumulatively experienced the eight weeks prior! We have had a great reaction to the viewing experience, and it’s nice to play fresh content again. When it’s all said and done, NEC’s Ticket to Digital program allowed me to keep my doors open.

Sadly, many independent and second-run theatres have suffered and even had to close their doors due to the movie studios’ neglect of the little guy. But looking forward, a program like this is really what will keep cinemas alive, no matter how small or old. I hope that movie studios will resolve small theatres’ remaining limitations by releasing prints in a more reasonable time period, rather than releasing them a few weeks before they go on DVD. That is my next dream.

Jason Dover may be reached at jdover1827@aol.com.