3D cinema takes off in emerging countries

Article  by  Karl DEMYTTENAERE  •  Published 17.05.2013  •  Updated 17.05.2013
[NEWS] Despite occasional hits, S3D cinema is struggling for success in European and North American movie theatres, whereas in emerging countries such as China and Russia, it’s winning over vast audiences.
Do American and European audiences have something against S3D[+] NoteThe term 3D was originally used for the creation and animation of three-dimensional models or characters. With the return of 3D or stereoscopic cinema in the late 1990s, an “S” for stereoscopic was appended to abbreviation, which thus became “S3D”.X [1]? It seems not, judging from the April 2013 box office figures for the stereoscopic version of Jurassic Park. Steven Spielberg’s film, back in theatres 20 years after its original release, garnered 20 million dollars in ticket sales.


But this success is the exception rather than the rule in the United States, where S3D movies have ceased to attract audiences[+] NoteNevertheless, American producers have not entirely relinquished stereoscopic versions. In spring 2013, four major 3D releases are scheduled: The Great Gatsby (filmed directly in S-3D), Star Trek Into Darkness (filmed in 2D), Epic (animated), Man of Steel (filmed in 2D). X [2], increasingly reluctant to pay four dollars more for such screenings – to such an extent that for 2013, the agency Fitch Ratings foresees a drop in the contribution of 3D films to the U.S. box office for the first time since 2009, when the format became a film industry staple. This trend seems confirmed by figures from the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA): the number of S3D film released in the U.S. dropped from 45 to 36 between 2011 and 2012. In the wake of initial enthusiasm and the Avatar phenomenon, this format thus seems to be losing steam in the American market – as seen with the film G.I Joe: Conspiration, produced by Paramount and racking up 41.2 million dollars in the U.S. since its release, but only half of which comes from the stereoscopic version. Conversely, in emerging markets, this same version of the most recent opus in the G.I. Joe series has earned the American studio nearly 80.3 million dollars.
 
Studios have reached the conclusion that the future of S3D lies beyond U.S. borders. In Asia, six of the nine screens built every day are adapted for 3D technologies, on average. According to IHS Screen Digest, the Asian continent currently contains 8,815 3D movie theatres – more than the whole of the American continent, the U.S. included[+] Note7,696 in total.X [3]. The Canadian company IMAX has caught on to this trend and adapted its strategy in its emerging markets, booming and full of promise.
 
China became the second-biggest film market worldwide in March 2013, now representing a vital region for Hollywood studios. In this country, S3D feature films hold a non-negligible advantage in that they short-circuit piracy. While illegal copies of the latest major productions are generally quickly available, S3D releases offer viewers an experience that they are unable to replicate at home. The Chinese public is seeking out just this “exceptional experience” in dishing out nearly 16 dollars per stereoscopic screening, pricier than tickets in the United States.
 
In Russia, where piracy is a veritable scourge for the film industry as well, 3D has also established itself on the cultural landscape. Between June 2010 and June 2012, 3D ticket sales exploded, rising 200%; in parallel, between 2011 and 2012, the number of movie theatres equipped for 3D rose by 11%. This seems to be just the beginning for this rapidly expanding market, which already represents some 1.3 billion dollars. In February 2013, the owner of the Karo Films chain of movie theatres signed a contract with RealD[+] NoteRealD is one of the technologies used in 3D, for so-called “active” glasses, which receive an infrared signal (at six times the image rate) that synchronizes the projection of the right-eye and left-eye images with the frames of the left-eye and right-eye glasses. X [4] to open 200 new 3D-equipped movie theatres throughout Russia.
 
This dynamism is stirring up the interest of the region’s producers, who refuse to let Hollywood blockbusters alone benefit from the 3D phenomenon. In 2013, the first Russian 3D superproduction will hit the country’s IMAX screens. Soberly entitled Stalingrad, this pharaonic movie on the World War II battle cost producer Alexander Rodnyansky nearly 24 million euros, the biggest budget ever for a 3D feature film in Russia. Directed by Fyodor Bondarchuk, who made a name for himself in 2005 for another war film, The 9th Company, Stalingrad is aiming to seduce Russian audiences with a 3D spectacle worthy of Hollywood, and a screenplay recounting a glorious chapter in the country’s history.
 
Russia and China are not the only countries embracing 3D: the science fiction movie Ra.One, written and directed by Anubhav Sinha, was a veritable hit in India. Released on October 26, 2012, it reached 44.8 million dollars in ticket sales in just fifteen days, more than earning back its colossal budget of 27.4 million dollars. This success could encourage Indian producers to take the plunge and more widely invest in 3D projects, despite the fact that this type of movie costs 15% more than 2D features, on average.
 


Images from Indian sci-fi film Ra.One

Despite losing steam on the U.S. market[+] NoteAmerican and European producers appear to be funneling their investments toward better definition (4K) 2D films, for more efficient profitability. In equipment manufacturer discourse, the term “3D” is disappearing in favor of “4K”. Forthcoming movies are mostly filmed in 4K, while 3D movies are filmed in 2K. The trend in coming years will be theatres equipped for 4K, with S3D as an additional option (projectors are already compatible).X [5], S3D seems to be on the road to profitability in emerging markets. But Hollywood studios are going to have to deal with local productions, determined not to hand over their domestic markets to the giants from California.

Translated from French by Sara Heft
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Photo Credits: 
- Title illustration:
"3D is here" - Hitchster / Flickr
- Article:
3D theatres - Steve McN / Flickr
Ra.One Veronika/SRK / Flickr
  • 1. The term 3D was originally used for the creation and animation of three-dimensional models or characters. With the return of 3D or stereoscopic cinema in the late 1990s, an “S” for stereoscopic was appended to abbreviation, which thus became “S3D”.
  • 2. Nevertheless, American producers have not entirely relinquished stereoscopic versions. In spring 2013, four major 3D releases are scheduled: The Great Gatsby (filmed directly in S-3D), Star Trek Into Darkness (filmed in 2D), Epic (animated), Man of Steel (filmed in 2D).
  • 3. 7,696 in total.
  • 4. RealD is one of the technologies used in 3D, for so-called “active” glasses, which receive an infrared signal (at six times the image rate) that synchronizes the projection of the right-eye and left-eye images with the frames of the left-eye and right-eye glasses.
  • 5. American and European producers appear to be funneling their investments toward better definition (4K) 2D films, for more efficient profitability. In equipment manufacturer discourse, the term “3D” is disappearing in favor of “4K”. Forthcoming movies are mostly filmed in 4K, while 3D movies are filmed in 2K. The trend in coming years will be theatres equipped for 4K, with S3D as an additional option (projectors are already compatible).
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