A report in Saturday's Los Angeles Times about the impact of the transition to digital projection on drive-in theaters included the surprising statistic that 368 of them still survive in the U.S. According to the Times report, the switch to digital distribution of movies, which is expected to be completed before the end of the year, will result in the closure of most of them, given the conversion cost of $70,000-$100,000 per screen. The Times noted that drive-in theaters must incur costs that multiplexes do not -- including a stronger light source to carry the image from the projection booth, which often sits a hundred yards or more from the screen. Oddly, the newspaper noted, the subsidy plan that the studios agreed to provide most theaters does not apply to drive-ins. That plan delivers roughly $1,300 to the theaters with each digital print -- representing the savings the studios gain by not having to process and ship a 35mm print -- until the cost of the digital projectors is paid off. The latest hardship comes at a time when the drive-in is making something of a comeback as young couples discover they can talk during a movie, text, smoke, and head for the snack bar while still watching what's on the screen -- not to mention paying lower ticket prices.
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