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LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Three-dimensional film technology could transform the movie business, with viewers willing to pay a premium for it, the heads of the top U.S. movie theater chain and largest independent animation studio said on Wednesday.
Michael Campbell, chairman and CEO of Regal Entertainment Group, said box office results from the handful of 3D films released so far convinced him of the "potential advantages for theaters, not just studios" in switching to digital projection systems that support modern 3D technology.
Campbell told analysts at a Bank of America conference that audiences were willing to pay premium ticket prices for 3D films, and said they preferred them by a 2-to-1 margin.
Another deciding factor for Regal was a strong show of support for the new medium by Hollywood studios, among them the Walt Disney Co. and DreamWorks Animation SKG Inc., which announced this month that it will make all its movies in 3D, starting with "Monsters vs. Aliens" in 2009.
Disney is set to release its animated film, "Meet the Robinsons," on Friday to 701 digital 3D screens, the largest such release ever, and has set up a studio with director Robert Zemeckis to produce animated movies in the new format.
"What that is going to mean for our industry in a few years when we have thousands of 3D screens ... if we can sell 10 to 15 percent higher (priced) tickets, that is a needle mover," Campbell said.
DreamWorks Chief Executive Jeffrey Katzenberg told analysts in a separate session that making animated films in 3D would add $10 million to $15 million to production costs, but he considered it a worthwhile expense.
"The audience actually feels in the (animated) world in a way that we have not really seen before. From a filmmaking standpoint, it is really exciting," Katzenberg said.
Katzenberg said nearly every major Hollywood studio plans to make "big event films" in 3D for release in 2009. He added that one day, "the mainstream of moviemaking is going to be the 3D experience ... and consumers will pay a premium."
The upcoming slate of 3D films from top directors, including Steven Spielberg, Zemeckis, James Cameron and Peter Jackson, would hurry along the digital transition in theaters, which had been "slow to embrace" the new technology.
"If half their business is a premium business, that changes the whole economics of the business," he said. "The momentum is gathering. This is the most exciting thing that has happened in the business since I have been in the business."
Katzenberg said that if enough theaters have converted to digital 3D by the 2009 release of "Monsters vs. Aliens," he would consider releasing the film only in that format, and making a 2D version available only on DVD.