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Backgrounder: Settlement with respect to the exhibition of movies with closed captioning

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Ontario Human Rights Commission /
Nancy Barker / Scott Simser / Gary Malkowski
Alliance Atlantis Cinemas partnership / AMC Entertainment
International Inc. / Cineplex Entertainment LP / Rainbow Centre
Cinemas Inc.

Three complainants filed complaints against various film exhibitors and distributors regarding accessibility of movies to the deaf, deafened and hard of hearing community which were referred by the Ontario Human Rights Commission to the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario. The complainants and the exhibitor parties (the “Exhibitors”) have agreed to a settlement which includes an incremental increase in the number of theatre complexes with the capability to exhibit movies with closed captioning.

Similar complaints against two film distributors, Universal Canada and Paramount Canada, were also referred to the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario. In a parallel settlement, Universal Canada has agreed to continue to provide its films in both open and closed caption formats. The complaints against Paramount Canada have not been resolved and it is anticipated that a hearing will soon be scheduled before the Tribunal.

Previously, Famous Players (now Cineplex Entertainment) was the only Exhibitor in Canada to offer rear window captioning (“RWC”) technology. RWC facilitates access to movies by allowing individual moviegoers to view captions on a small portable reflector screen. This reflector screen fits into a seat’s cup-holder and mirrors captions that are displayed backwards on a 10-foot wide teleprompter screen mounted on the rear wall of the auditorium. RWC technology first became commercially available in 1997 with the release of Titanic and remains the only commercially available closed captioning technology for movie exhibition today. In 2001 and 2002, Famous Players (now Cineplex Entertainment) installed RWC systems in 56 auditoria across Canada.

A number of new potential closed captioning technologies are under development, which should offer greater functionality and flexibility than RWC. These technological developments have led to the present settlement between the parties.

Under the settlement, AMC Entertainment International Inc., Cineplex Entertainment LP and Rainbow Centre Cinemas Inc. have agreed to the installation of new closed captioning systems in many Ontario theatres, when such new technology becomes commercially available, on a phased-in basis. While each RWC unit provides accessibility for a single auditorium, it is anticipated that the new technology will provide accessibility to many, and in some cases all, of the auditoria in a movie complex through a central server that will allow digital dialogue to be displayed on handheld personal digital assistants (PDAs).

The settlement contemplates that nineteen theatre complexes across Ontario will have the new technology in place by the end of 2008 plus seven further theatre complexes and every newly opened theatre complex between 2009 and 2013. Cineplex Entertainment will also maintain its existing complement of RWC units.

In the unlikely event that the new technologies do not become commercially available, then each Exhibitor has agreed to a number of RWC installations or open captioning at selected theatres.

In order for an Exhibitor to offer captioning to its guests in its theatres, the studio that distributes the film must first create captions for that film. If the studio does not caption a film, neither RWC nor any other captioning projection technology will provide for captions to be shown in a movie theatre, even if an Exhibitor has installed a captioning system.

The Exhibitors have also agreed to provide visible signage regarding the availability and schedules of movies with closed captioning at applicable theatres. Further, a monitor has been appointed under the agreement to ensure that settlement obligations are being met and to resolve any disputes between the parties.