Cinemeccanica S.p.A. - Company Profile, Information, Business Description, History, Background Information on Cinemeccanica S.p.A.

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Company Perspectives

Since it was founded in 1920, Cinemeccanica has been known for the quality and reliability of its products and for the high level of service to customers. Today, Cinemeccanica, with headquarters in Milan, Italy, and more than ninety sales points all over the world, is one of the top theater-equipment manufacturers with a large international installed base. Cinemeccanica, combining tradition and experience with innovation, is more than ever committed to satisfying today's and tomorrow's needs of worldwide customers.

History of Cinemeccanica S.p.A.

Cinemeccanica S.p.A. is a leading manufacturer of motion picture projection equipment. Its products include 35mm and 70mm film projectors; lamphouses; theater automation systems; film handling equipment; screens; and a digital cinema projector made in partnership with Belgian imaging technology firm Barco. The company also distributes sound equipment and provides installation of full "turnkey" projection systems. Cinemeccanica's products are sold around the world by a network of more than 90 dealers and used in major theater chains like AMC, Warner Brothers, Gaumont, and Rank, as well as at studios and other production facilities.

Early Years

Founded in 1920 in Milan, Italy on the site of the former R. Bossi factory, Cinemeccanica started out making a number of different products, including motorcycle engines and various items of cast metal, as well as motion picture equipment. Its first film projector, the Victoria I model, was unveiled at the Milan Trade fair that same year, and in 1924 the company was reorganized to concentrate exclusively on film equipment under chairman Professor Francesco Mauro and managing director Dr. Umberto Cecchi.

In 1926 Cinemeccanica opened a new manufacturing plant to make lightweight magnesium 35mm cameras for use in aerial cinematography, and in 1929 the introduction of talking pictures led the firm to develop its first sound movie projector, the Victoria 2. The new technology necessitated the company's expansion into electrical engineering, as the machine required electronic systems in addition to mechanical ones.

After Italy's defeat in World War II Cinemeccanica began seeking to export its products, initially targeting France to the north. Foreign sales grew during the 1950s, and in 1959 the company signed an agreement with the Rank Organisation of England in which the latter firm agreed to install Cinemeccanica equipment in its theater chain and market it in 33 countries, while ending production of its own Gaumont Kalee line. The agreement would bring the name Cinemeccanica to a new level of international recognition.

Introducing the Victoria 8 in 1961

In 1961 the company introduced a projector called the Victoria 8, which was capable of showing both the longtime theatrical standard of 35mm and the new 70mm gauge. The latter offered much higher resolution images as well as multichannel sound via magnetic stripes laid on the film, though it added significantly to the cost of production and was used only for epics like Ben-Hur and The Sound of Music. The technically advanced machine helped solidify the firm's status as one of the premier manufacturers of projection equipment in the world. Unlike some of its competitors, Cinemeccanica had never made gear for nontheatrical film gauges like 16mm and 8mm.

The company's equipment reached the United States in 1962 when the Hornstein family of New York began marketing its products. Two years later American distribution was picked up by Carbons, Inc. (later known as Xetron).

In 1966 Cinemeccanica was chosen to outfit the first four-screen cinema in the world, the Metro Plaza in Kansas City, Missouri, which was run by Stan Durwood's American Multi-Cinema (AMC). The installation utilized the Victoria 8 model. The multiscreen concept proved highly successful due to the savings realized from using a small lobby staff to service new audiences every few minutes. Other theater owners soon took the same approach, and equipment firms like Cinemeccanica benefited as the number of screens began to grow exponentially.

In 1968 the industry began to adopt the platter system, which allowed a film to be shown continuously from beginning to end without reel changes. Prior to its development theaters had used two projectors for each screen, with the movie shipped on reels of ten- to 20-minute duration that were either changed one after the other or spliced onto larger reels about one hour long for a single change mid-feature. Over the next few years Cinemeccanica would begin producing both platters and automation systems that could trigger changes in lighting and volume level (between previews and feature), and shut off the projector at the end. The platter system would help make the multiplex even more economically efficient, as one projectionist could oversee multiple screenings at the same time, further reducing overhead costs.

Debut of the Victoria 5 in 1975

In 1975 Cinemeccanica introduced the Victoria 5 projector. Developed as a lower-cost 35mm machine for use in multiplexes, it would become the firm's most-installed unit worldwide, eventually accounting for 95 percent of sales. Two years later the company also developed a fully automated system that used a pair of projectors to eliminate rethreading the film between showings (as was necessary with even the platter system). This concept was especially popular in Korea and Japan, where the firm's equipment had first been distributed in 1970. Other Pacific Rim nations like Singapore, Thailand, and Australia were beginning to adopt the firm's equipment during this period as well.

The Victoria 5 also resulted in increased sales to the United States, as Cinemeccanica projectors were installed throughout the rapidly growing AMC chain. General Cinema and Loews (both of which would much later be absorbed by AMC) would begin using the firm's equipment in their theaters, too, with some 1,300 machines installed by General Cinema alone over the next few years.

In 1978 Vittore Nicelli was named managing director of the company, while long-term leader and owner Dr. Umberto Cecchi retired. Nicelli had begun working for Cinemeccanica in 1964 as an electronics engineer to design transistorized sound systems, before working his way into management.

In 1985 Cinemeccanica formed an American subsidiary in Clearwater, Florida, as distribution through Xetron had ended four years earlier. The firm's agreement with Britain's Rank also had ended in 1984 when that firm gave up all of its theaters save those in the United Kingdom.

The company's technical innovation continued in 1992 with the introduction of a new "basement" sound reader that had been developed in conjunction with Dolby Labs, which could read that firm's new SRD digital audio format while also yielding improved results from the older SV-A analog soundtrack.

The year 1995 saw the creation of a French subsidiary, Cinemeccanica France S.A., in Paris. In addition to selling through its two subsidiaries, the firm utilized numerous professional cinema equipment dealers around the world to sell and service its products, with repair work performed by technicians trained by Cinemeccanica. Some installations were performed by the company's own staff, such as those done in Persian Gulf countries like Dubai.

In 1996 Cinemeccanica lost a suit filed by Leonard Studio Equipment, which had alleged patent infringement in the firm's manufacture of Dario and Super Dario camera dollies. They were subsequently discontinued.

By the start of the 21st century the company had become the dominant supplier of professional projection equipment to much of Europe and in many other countries of the world. An estimated 80 to 85 percent of installations in Italy, Spain, and the Middle East utilized Cinemeccanica projectors, while South America and South Africa also were supplied in large part by the firm, and theaters in Asia and those of several major U.S. chains used significant numbers as well. The firm's products had gained a reputation for reliability and long-term service support, with some machines from as far back as the 1940s and 1950s still in operation, and production of the classic Victoria 8 from 1961 ongoing. The firm machined parts and assembled projectors at its factory in Milan, with production averaging about 1,500 units per year.

Digital Era Beginning in 2004

In 2004 Cinemeccanica signed an agreement to partner with Belgian imaging technology firm Barco to produce a digital video projector. The company had recently performed an installation of digital projection equipment in Bratislava, Slovakia, and was seeing increasing demand for such equipment. Barco's 2K technology was based on Texas Instruments' DLP Cinema, which was the first digital video format approved by Hollywood studios for use in theaters. Barco also would work with several other projector makers, including Cinemeccanica rival Strong, to produce digital projection equipment.

DLP had been developed to respond to the specific requirements of projecting large high-definition film-like images from digital media in darkened theaters, with the minimum goal being an improvement over the visual quality of 35mm film. It offered a number of advantages including scratch-, flicker-, and jitter-free images, with minimal cost for producing and shipping prints as compared with the significant expense of manufacturing and distributing the 35mm format. Replacement of damaged prints would be as simple as creating another digital copy of a master, and piracy concerns were alleviated somewhat by the noncompatibility of digital theater formats with home video. The latter was recorded at 25 or 30 images per second, in contrast with the worldwide film standard of 24, which DLP would continue to use. DLP theoretically offered a contrast ratio of 1,000:1 and could reproduce 4.4 trillion different shades of color, some 40 percent more than high-definition television. It was expected eventually to replace film in first-run theaters, though as with earlier innovations like 3-D and 70mm, theater owners balked at the initial cost of installing the equipment. In contrast with those specialized formats, however, digital cinema was clearly on its way to becoming the industry standard, though the exact timeline for adoption was still unclear.

In 2005 the new D-CineStar DP60 digital projector was introduced. The liquid-cooled machine, which was co-branded with Barco, utilized a modified Cinemeccanica 35mm projector lamphouse and offered the option of a switcher that could accept a variety of formats from different sources to show advertising or other content before films. In addition to saving costs on the production end, the new development was expected to be a boon for the projection equipment industry, which soon would have many thousands of screens to re-equip worldwide.

After more than 85 years Cinemeccanica S.p.A. had established itself as a leader in the motion picture projection equipment industry. The firm's long-term management continuity, as well as its partnerships with developers of cutting-edge technology like Dolby and Barco, put it in a strong position for future success.

Principal Subsidiaries

Cinemeccanica France S.A.; Cinemeccanica U.S., Inc.

Principal Competitors

Ballantyne of Omaha, Inc.; Christie Digital Systems, Inc.; Kinoton GmbH.


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