The Digital Cinema Initiatives (DCI) is formed by the six major US film studios: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Paramount Pictures, Sony Pictures Entertainment, 20th Century Fox, Universal Studios, The Walt Disney Company and Warner Bros. and defines international standards for digital film formats and projection. On the bright side these guys define what aspect ratios, resolutions, frame rates,etc. are defined by standards named "2K" or "4K" when they are shown in cinema or how many frames per second films shot in HFR really have. But there is also the dark secretive side that is happening behind closed doors and here the DCI comes up with plans for anti-piracy measures and how to enforce tight control over cinemas.
The DCI norm defines that equipment for digital cinemas only receives the DCI certification if it contains a so called Secure Media Box. This is basically a DRM blackbox that implants a backdoor into the cinemas video server hardware and is meant to communicate with the DCIs servers and controls which films the cinema is permitted to shown at what times. The DCI is pushing for worldwide adoption of digital projection mainly to save money and increase influence. A 35mm film copy costs around 600€. For a single film to premiere at the same time globally you have to create many thousand copies. So switching to delivering hard-drives instead makes sense economically. There are also plans to transfer the films to cinemas over the Internet to further reduce costs, but so far these methods have not been implemented on a bigger scale. The Secure Media Box also contains the keys required to play encrypted DCPs in a vault that is inaccessible from the outside. Every projection system has its own signature so keys are signed for each device individually. The play-out in this Secure Media Box can also implement a so called "forensic marking" - a watermark that is invisible during projection. On pirated films created with camcorders the watermark can be made visible again to identify the cinema and time/date of the recording (more information in the European Digital Cinema Security White Book from page 139 on). In addition to this imposed dictatorship, DCI certified equipment is also more expensive (60,000 - 90,000 € for 10 years) compared to 35mm projection equipment (15,000 - 25,000 € for 30 years). Most cinemas who convert to digital in Europe receive government benefits to cover the high investments. The smaller independent cinemas with a stronger focus on Arthouse films often do not meet the funding criterias. With 35mm film copy distribution being phased out already those independent cinemas now face bankruptcy and many already had to close.
Not everyone is accepting the DCI dictatorship and so smaller cinema owners, developers and enthusiasts from all around the world have teamed up to come up with an alternative system based on open source technology. We talked to some of them to gain insight into what's really going on and what they are doing to save their cinemas.
What is the situation in France?
In France public funding supports around 900 theaters with 56,000,000 € for covering the digital projection transitions. A big part of the other countries have no public funding at all. The actual funding is rather complex and runs through a bank and a 3rd party integrator (who retains ownership of the digital cinema system until is completely payed off). In the US this integrator is owned by the DCI as well - in Europe that isn't the case most of the time. But for cinema owners the problem is not only funding. Its a paradigm change - now they suddenly need to deal with software and hardware providers and its often difficult for them to decide what they really need (like 3D, HFR). For instance Globecast/Smartjog offers to encrypt the DCP for satellite transmission for an extra charge, but the DCPs are actually already encrypted. So independent cinemas become dependent on equipment and service providers and they cannot easily appropriate the technology due to cost and high security levels.