Commercials Steal Show at Movie Theaters

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), January 21, 2003 | Go to article overview

Commercials Steal Show at Movie Theaters


Byline: Donna De Marco, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Commercials have become a feature presentation in theaters as moviegoers chomp on popcorn, turn off their cell phones and wait for the featured flick to begin.

In addition to the in-lobby promotions, popcorn-bag advertisements and ticket-stub ads, more commercials are popping up on the big screen for pre-movie viewing.

When the lights go down, advertisers like Coca-Cola, the Air Force and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People take center stage.

Industry officials say what has been a viable advertising option in Europe for years has caught on in the United States as more advertisers use the valuable real estate to get their message and products in front of millions of eyes.

"[Advertisers] are looking for places they can reach a captive audience and stretch their advertising dollars," said Laura Adler, vice president of marketing for the National Cinema Network, a theater advertising-services provider that represents nearly 8,000 screens in theater chains like AMC.

But movie audiences that have shelled out close to $10 for a ticket don't necessarily like to be held captive to ads.

"Pre-movie ads are something that drives moviegoers nuts," said Gary Ruskin, executive director of Commercial Alert, a media watchdog. "It's insulting to moviegoers."

Nonetheless, cinema advertising is enjoying one of the best years in the movie business.

Hollywood sold 1.64 billion tickets last year and hit a box-office revenue record of more than $9.4 billion. At the end of 2001, there were 35,000 movie screens in the country, according to the National Association of Theatre Owners.

"This industry is a sleeping giant," said Cliff Marks, president of marketing and sales for Regal CineMedia, a subsidiary of Regal Entertainment Group that represents more than 5,700 screens.

Regal Entertainment, which includes Regal Cinemas, United Artists Theatres and Edwards Theatres, has 22 million patrons during any given month, Mr. Marks said.

Many factors are driving the growth of the cinema advertising industry, which brings in an estimated $200 million to $300 million a year.

The clutter on television, the growing number of channels and the option of TiVo, which can wipe out commercials, are forcing advertisers to broaden their options.

The theater venue itself - with larger-than-life sight, sound and motion - is one of the biggest draws for advertisers. Not to mention the fact that the majority of moviegoers are 18 to 49 years old - the target group advertisers want to reach.

Research has shown movie-advertising recall is three to six times higher than that of television advertising.

Given the advantages of cinema, "it is inevitable that advertisers will gravitate to it," said Todd Siegel, executive vice president of sales and marketing for Screenvision, which represents about 14,000 screens in theater circuits including Loews.

The medium is expensive - especially on a national level. For instance, a national 30-second pre-show spot may cost between $450,000 and $1 million for a four-week minimum run on more than 5,600 screens, depending on the season, National Cinema Network says.

"There's a huge market out there and so much room for growth," Ms. Adler said.

Most of the pre-show ads start when the lights dim, at the advertised movie time. For some, it's a deceptive way to get an advertising message across. …

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