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Film downloads, better TVs will not kill movie theaters, execs say

By Alan Duke, CNN
Jeffrey Katzenberg: "I actually believe we're going to have a renaissance in terms of the theater experience."
Jeffrey Katzenberg: "I actually believe we're going to have a renaissance in terms of the theater experience."
  • Movies are funnier, scarier and more exciting in a theater, DreamWorks' Katzenberg says
  • Better 3-D is coming, "Avatar" director James Cameron says
  • Home theaters and online downloads will not hurt theaters, an industry executive says

Las Vegas (CNN) -- "Movie theaters will never, ever go away," despite improved and cheaper home theater systems and the quicker availability of new film releases on DVD and online, producer George Lucas says.

The "Star Wars" producer's optimism about the future of community cinemas was shared by other producers and industry executives interviewed by CNN this week at CinemaCon, the theater owner's annual convention.

"It's been human nature over centuries, going back to the Greek tragedies, to seek out the communal entertainment experience," said "Titanic" and "Avatar" producer Jon Landau.

The arrival of digital technology is saving the community theater, DreamWorks Animation CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg said.

"People want a special experience in the movie theaters and today we actually, more than ever before, have the technical and the artistic tools to be able to do that," DreamWorks Animation CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg said. "I actually believe we're going to have a renaissance in terms of the theater experience."

The "communal experience" of watching with others in a theater makes a movie better, Katzenberg said.

"Funny movies are funnier, scary movies are scarier, actions movies are more exciting. There's an energy," he said. "There's a connectivity that happens when people get together, and that's what movies and movie theaters do."

Animated 3-D blockbusters are about to get easier to create because faster computer tools are being developed for animators, Katzenberg said.

Director James Cameron, who pushed 3-D movies to a new level with "Avatar," said 3-D on the screen will get even better by the time "Avatar 2" hits theaters.

"People are complaining some of the 3-D theaters are dark. Well, I'm going to talk to the theater owners about getting those light levels up," Cameron said. "That's really important, because when you put the glasses on, the screen gets a little darker."

The next "Avatar" will also be dramatically sharper because Cameron will increase the 24 frames projected on the screen every second to 60 frames, something made possible by the conversion of theaters to digital technology, he said.

John Fithian, president of the National Association of Theatre Owners, predicts that within two years all American movie theaters will have converted from film reels to digital projectors.

"The transition from cinemas using film technology to digital is happening really rapidly," he said. "Probably by the end of 2013 it won't make economic sense to use film anymore, so we'll be a completely converted business by then."

Box office receipts, thanks to blockbusters such as "Avatar," have been "pretty stable" in past five years, despite video downloads and better home theater systems, Fithian said.

The only technology that actually had a negative impact on theater admissions was when televisions first entered homes in the late 1940s and early 1950s, he said.

"Since then, however, with each advent of a new technology in the home, our theater business has continued to grow," he said. "Through VHS and DVD and Blu-ray and now video on demand, people who like movies in the home are the same people who love to come out to the cinema to watch movies because movie lovers are movie lovers everywhere."

Industry research shows that the more types of technology people have in their homes to watch movies, the more often they come out to the cinemas as well, he said.

One innovation that theater owners are fighting is the possibility that studios will narrow the time between a film's release at theaters and when it can be downloaded at home or purchased on DVD.

Christopher Dodd, the former U.S. senator who took over last week as chairman of the Motion Picture Association of America, said the studios will never release movies on DVD or online the same day as a theatrical release.

"If it's not in the theater first, and has that space, then it's hard, in many ways, to imagine how well that product can do in the absence of that experience," Dodd said.

Dodd's group, which is composed of the major movie studios, is most concerned about the money lost from people stealing movies and selling pirated copies.

He said it is not a victimless crime, because it robs money from the paychecks of the two million Americans who work in movie-related jobs.

But no matter how many low-resolution copies of a movie are available, Lucas said the movie-going experience will not be diluted.

It is "a good night out, and you can't get that on an iPhone," Lucas said.

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