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Christie and Partners Lead America’s Drive-In Theaters Into the Digital Age

As part of its national initiative to usher America’s drive-in theaters into the digital age, Christie is a sponsor of the 12th annual convention for the United Drive-In Theatre Owners Association (UDITOA), February 6 – 9, in Kissimmee, Florida, and has partnered with leading dealers across the United States to bring the benefits of digital cinema technology to a sector characterized by traditional 35mm projection.

“No single institution in American cinema history offers the sense of nostalgia, romance and freedom that drive-in theaters convey,” said Craig Sholder, vice president of Christie’s Entertainment Solutions. “With more than 80 years serving the exhibition community, Christie understands first-hand the challenges of running drive-ins and we are eager to bring them into the modern age, preserving this important legacy of cinema history.”

Christie offers the world’s best-selling and most powerful digital projection system, the Christie Solaria™ Series of 2D and 3D projectors, to light up the largest drive-in screens under the most challenging twilight conditions. In the southern and Midwest states specifically, Christie has joined forces with two of the country’s most renowned dealers – Sonic Equipment Company and Entertainment Supply and Technologies (ES&T) – to offer complete, single-source digital cinema solutions. Design, consultation, installation, and ongoing support are available from Christie and its partners. As well, Christie’s Network Operating Center (NOC) can provide 24/7 technical support and ongoing maintenance.

A Storied Past and Confident Future
At the height of their popularity in the 1950s, more than 4,000 drive-in theaters covered the American landscape. Changing movie viewing habits saw their numbers dwindle, but there are now exciting signs that they’re making a comeback, according to UDITOA. The association notes that drive-in theaters not only remain a time honored American institution, but in a battered economy, they still offer one of the best values for family entertainment.

With moviegoers seeking to recapture the magical memories of their youth, digital technology represents for drive-ins a distinctive competitive edge against the “hard tops” (indoor theaters) by offering alternative content such as major sporting events, musical and other cultural performances, in a unique outdoor environment, under the stars. The installation of powerful Christie DLP Cinema projectors allows audiences to experience the brightest and sharpest images on these big outdoor screens at the lowest cost of operation, eclipsing traditional 35mm film projection.

Florida Exhibitor Seizes the Opportunity
For more than 60 years, the Silver Moon Drive-In Theatre has been a landmark in central Florida, where it was the first of its kind to open in Lakeland. Today, the Silver Moon continues to operate successfully, offering a double feature of first-run movies on two screens. “We are the last drive-in theater in Polk County, but we are here to stay,” said owner Harold T. Spears.

Entertainment Supply and Technologies, LLC (ES&T), a full service cinema industry dealer and certified Christie partner from box office to projection booth “and everything in between,” recently completed the digitization of Silver Moon. ES&T chose the Solaria Series Christie CP2230 digital projectors as the most effective for lighting up the two massive screens of 55’ and 70’.

“Audiences have remarked how much brighter and sharper the images on the screen are now,” said Bruce Schneiter, vice-president, Technical Services, at ES&T. “Christie was our first choice, because they have always provided top-level products and service, and they stand behind everything they offer. They are unparalleled for their technical expertise and industry experience.”

Missouri Leads the Charge at B&B Moberly Five and Drive
Recognized by the National Association of Theater Owners (NATO) as one of the oldest family-owned circuits in the Midwest, B&B Theatres have seen the coming of sound, color, widescreen, digital, 3D and countless other advances in stereo sound and projection technologies. Currently, B&B Theatres operate in towns of all sizes, opening multiplex theaters in many of the same places that once housed their old-time, single-screen and twin theaters. When B&B Theatres decided to replace its two aging downtown movie houses in Moberly, Missouri with a new, multi-million-dollar multiplex, they built on their drive-in theater lot – vacant since 1985 – and put the drive-in screen back to work as well. The new theater complex, opened in 1997, is called the Moberly Five and Drive.

Sonic Equipment Company, a Kansas-based digital cinema integrator and certified Christie partner, installed a Christie CP2230 DLP Cinema projector with a 4,500 watt bulb for the drive-in’s large, 64’-wide screen. According to Dan VanOrden, circuit general manager of B&B Theatres, “I was extremely impressed with the results. The audience, too, absolutely loved the bright new look. The drive-in is so bright now that Highway 63 is lit up in front of it!”

VanOrden noted that the conversion to digital gave Moberly many more options for alternative content, as well. “We’ve been able to run DVD’s of classic movies, for example, and they actually look much better on that huge screen than their old 35mm prints did.”

Sonic had previously installed Christie digital projectors in six drive-in screens in Texas, including the Stars and Stripes in Lubbock, as well as the Big Sky in Midland.

“Speaking for The Big Sky, our Christie Solaria projector gives us a gorgeous picture and our customers love it!” said Sam Kirkland, owner of The Big Sky. “When a drive-in goes to digital movies, it’s a big difference from film, and people see that difference immediately. The quality at drive-in theaters using Christie projectors is as good as the indoor theaters now.”

Steve Zimmerman, director of business development at Sonic, agreed. “Both Sonic and the theater owners at these locations in Texas were extremely impressed with the end result, allowing us to confidently recommend Christie to B&B Theatres.”

“Christie is committed to ensuring that America’s drive-ins remain competitive for generations to come by providing them with the dazzling images of digital cinema and the expanded revenue streams of alternative content. As we have been for more than 80 years, we are here for the long term to support them with superior customer service,” said Sholder. “Along with exceptional partners such as Sonic and ES&T, we want movie goers everywhere to rediscover the pleasure of watching the big screen under ‘the big sky.’”

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