Digital cinema deployment company Omnilab Media Cinema Services has signed its first virtual print fee deal with a major distributor, which will partially fund the digital upgrade for independent cinema owners.

The deal with Paramount Pictures is expected to be the first of six agreements between the major studios and OMCS, which was employed by the Independent Cinema Owners of Australia last September to assist their members to convert to digital equipment from 35mm projectors.

Omnilab Media managing director Christopher Mapp said the negotiation process with distributors for VPF contracts had been long and complex. "However, with the excellent cooperation of the major distributors we are set to sign several more agreements imminently," he said in a statement.

The number of digital screens has risen dramatically in recent times, spurred by the success of James Cameron's Avatar, which has also prompted a flurry of more 3D movies. The number of Australian digital screens rose to 311 in 2009 compared to just 26 in 2006, according to Screen Australia data.

OMCS has already completed several digital installations on behalf of independent cinema owners.

ICAA chief executive Mark Sarfaty said the ICAA had been working on behalf of all independent  cinemas to achieve a positive outcome on digital transition for several years and partnering with Omnilab Media had enabled it to achieve a successful deal.

“I know that independent cinema owners will be pleased by this news and are looking forward to OMCS concluding agreements shortly with all distributors so that independent operators will finally be able to complete the expensive transition to digital cinema alongside the major exhibition circuits,” Sarfaty said in a statement.

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