Years from now, when it is almost as difficult to find a real film print of a movie from 2000 or later as it is to dig up a Katherine Heigl romcom that people actually like, we’ll probably be able to look back at this point and say “that’s where it really started.”

Too dramatic? Maybe, but here’s the thing: as studios have pushed to install 3D in as many theaters as possible, the side effect has been that digital projection has been given a huge push. Love for actual physical media aside, this is probably a good thing. It’s a cheaper distribution format, and with the art of proper film projection dying out, a way that most theaters can hopefully (hopefully) still show something like a decent-looking projection to audiences everywhere.

And now, Fox is taking a big step: the studio will distribute only digital prints in Hong Kong and Macau starting January 1, 2012.

“Hong Kong and Macau?” you chortle. That’s nothing, right? But this is only the beginning. Call it a dry run, an experiment. Deadline quotes Sunder Kimatrai, SVP and Asia-Pacific Regional Managing Director for Twentieth Century Fox International, “As a logical result of the transition to digital cinema, we feel the time is right to phase out the supply of our films in 35mm analogue formats. The entire Asia-Pacific region has been rapidly deploying digital cinema systems and over the next two years we expect to be announcing additional markets where supply of 35mm will be phased out.”

In addition to likely resulting in much cheaper distribution costs to many territories, this could be the first step in an overall streamlining of distribution for the studio. Expect others to follow suit.

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