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Star Wars Beamed To London Via Satellite

By | May 22, 2002

      Last week saw the launch of the latest Star Wars film, “Attack of the Clones.” Appropriately, the film was “beamed” from space to the Ritzy Theatre in London’s Leicester Square, courtesy of Boeing Digital Cinema. For the past few years, Boeing has been developing the technology to distribute Hollywood films to cinemas in the United States and Europe using satellite multicasting.

      The technology offers many benefits to cinema owners. In particular, it provides excellent picture quality and cuts down the cost of film distribution. According to Fernando Vivanco, spokesman at Boeing Digital Cinema: “It costs around $1,500 to $3,000 to make a copy of a film and to distribute it, and on average a Hollywood studio makes somewhere between 5,000 and 8,000 copies per film. The annual costs of film distribution are estimated by the industry to exceed $2 billion. Satellite delivery could result in substantial savings for the film studios.” A further benefit is that satellite distribution cuts down on video piracy as transmission by satellite can provide secure encrypted delivery. This is particularly important when distributing to remote locations in foreign countries.

      “During the past few weeks, our objective was to deploy as many systems in the U.S. before the May 16 Star Wars deadline. Now we have the equipment installed in 22 cinemas in the U.S. and one in London. The delivery method is based on a ‘store and forward’ model, where the film is transmitted to the cinemas a day or two before the first showing. Typically a film like Star Wars Episode 2 is around 1.2 to 1.5 terabytes in size before being compressed. After compression, it’s about 60 to 80 gigabytes and usually takes around 6 to 10 hours to transmit via satellite. The transmission is usually done off-peak at night. However we can also do live multicasts. In fact, we find that the movie theatres are keen to use the technology in order to expand into other business areas such as live sports events and concerts. Also, some theatres are interested in using their facilities to offer education and corporate training events or business conferences during the day when the cinemas are not being used,” Vivanco said.

      Nevertheless, the idea has been pretty slow to take off. The major stumbling block has been the cost of the new equipment. The cost of a digital film projector and servers is currently about $150,000 to $200,000 per screen. To ease the burden of financing, Boeing has begun to offer different financing schemes in conjunction with the studios. As a result, some cinemas have bought the equipment outright, some are leasing it, while others are using a revenue-share model split between the three parties.

      According to Vivanco: “Boeing brings three things to this business. Firstly, we offer an open architecture for satellite delivery. We will partner with several vendors according to the cinema’s wishes. We don’t have any proprietary technology. Secondly, we are very good at large scale systems integration and provide a one stop shopping facility. Thirdly, we provide encryption technology, which provides for secure transmission and prevents video piracy. The George Lucas Star Wars 2 was our big commercial launch film. We plan to do another 10 transmissions from now until the end of the year.”

      –Gareth Owen

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