This is one of the most important challenges coming out of the exhibition industry’s CinemaCon convention this week. Studios and especially technology companies are heavily promoting advances including high-frame rates, 4K projection, and 3D sound. But theater owners “have to all be very cautious not to buy the next iPhone or iPad with a new doodad,” Carmike Cinemas’ Terrell Mayton said at a panel this morning. “We could spend a lot of money and not get a lot of return on our investment.” Exhibition companies are financially exhausted after collectively spending $2.5B to install digital projectors — and they’re skeptical about gee-whiz promises after hearing Hollywood’s excessive hype for 3D. Now the industry knows that “not every movie should be in 3D,” AMC Cinemas’ Dan Huerta says. Execs are intrigued with the clear images produced by high frame rates — which could become a selling point later this year when Warner Bros releases The Hobbit at 48 frames per second. But theater owners say they’re still figuring out whether it makes sense to deploy the pricey software upgrade needed for high frame rate films in more than a few screens. Digital storage costs “can be significantly larger” than for a conventional 24-frame per second film, Huerta says. Mayton adds that high frame rate “has to be a kick-the-picture-out (advancement) or it just becomes one of a long line of technology advances that’s here for a while and then move into oblivion.” While theater owners seem to agree that they can’t necessarily charge a higher ticket price to upgrade the picture or sound quality, advances such as the high frame rates may work in some of the theater chains’ large screen venues as an added incentive for ticket buyers to pay a few extra bucks for 3-D. “There’s no question there’s pushback on that upcharge,” says Cineplex Entertainment’s Dan McGrath. “We all got, to an extent, a little bit greedy.”

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