RealTime IT News

Windows Media 9 Goes Indy

Continuing its push to make Windows Media 9 Series the de facto standard in digital media, both on and beyond the PC, Microsoft Thursday unveiled an alliance with independent film exhibitor Landmark Theatres, under which Landmark will equip each of its 53 theaters across the United States with digital cinema playback systems based on Microsoft's technology.

The Redmond, Wash.-based software giant said the deal marks the largest digital cinema theater circuit installation to date in the U.S. It also brings the efficiencies of digital distribution to independent film whereas most digital installations to date have focused on the largest screens and multiplexes, which are geared toward Hollywood blockbusters.

"Landmark's mandate has always been to build an alternative infrastructure dedicated to the enhancement and proliferation of independent film," said Bert Manzari, executive vice president of Landmark Theatres. "We exhibit over 250 films a year, and all too many of these films succeed or fail due to market economics rather than artistic accomplishment."

Currently, theatrical films cost the same to release whether released by a major studio or an independent with far less capital behind it. Microsoft said that the digital alternative is a "major breakthrough in these economies," by allowing the films to be mastered and distributed digitally, driving down costs and thereby helping enable greater diversity and access to the marketplace for independent filmmakers and distributors alike.

Landmark President and CEO Paul Richardson took a role as a featured presenter at a symposium on digital cinema at this year's Sundance Film Festival, and said the technology has generated a great deal of interest across the board.

"What has impressed me most is the enormous breadth of interest in digital cinema that has been generated since the festival," he said. "I've been contacted by key distributors, investment bankers and members of the creative community, all of whom want to know when we can deliver a complete solution to digital distribution. I believe that we will look back at this moment as one when we were able to fundamentally change the business model in a way that will allow far more of these films to compete successfully."

Jim Steele, president of Digital Cinema Solutions (DCS) -- which will deploy Microsoft's technology on its 'Cinema System' architecture for Landmark -- added, "The independent film space has largely been ignored by digital cinema. The small, current base of digital cinema installations targets the largest screens and multiplexes focused on mainstream Hollywood blockbusters. The program announced today by Landmark and Microsoft will change all that because it creates a nationwide network of independent digital cinemas, effectively solving the 'chicken and the egg' problem for the independent film community by allowing them to move forward for the first time with wide-scale digital distribution.

DCS will equip 177 of Landmark's screens with the Windows Media 9 Series technology and its 'Cinema System,' which has been used to power the BMW Films Digital Cinema Series in 25 theaters since November 2002.

DCS's system utilizes a networked PC architecture which plugs into existing theater infrastructure. Windows Media 9 Series then allows distributors to send films to theaters over private networks, on CD-ROM or on DVD-ROM, all protected with Microsoft's Windows Media Digital Rights Management (DRM) technology.

Microsoft said the films, encoded in Windows Media 9 Series, will provide high-resolution, theater-quality experiences, with up to 7.1 channel surround sound.

The companies expect to complete the network rollout by the end of the year.