Eschewing traditional staples of pre-screening filler like static movie trivia slides and quotidian come-ons from local businesspeople, Regal also plowed $70 million into digitizing its theaters, creating a Digital Content Network—which they own as part of Centennial, Colo.-based Regal Entertainment Group.
"The greatest entertainment experience of our culture has lacked a really entertaining pre-show environment," said Cliff Marks, president-marketing and sales, Regal CineMedia. "Through our relationships with our four content partners, we offer marketers the opportunity to expose their [messages] to 25 million people a month in an environment where people are generally accepting and tolerant of entertainment and promotainment-type of marketing." A February 2004 custom study for Regal by King Brown & Partners of San Francisco shows that ads running in The 2wenty have 27% higher unaided recall than standard pre-show advertising.
The 2wenty features a 20-minute block of long-form branded programming, with pieces running up to several minutes long from the content partners: NBC Universal, Sony Pictures Entertainment, and Turner Broadcasting while offering brands like Coca-Cola Co. and Cingular Wireless the opportunity to run standard :30 second commercials or long-form brand messaging of their own.
"The advertising in the cinema is part of the content. Each spot has the chance to be a mini-movie, whether it's :30, :60, :90. We'll even let people run :39 seconds," said Marks.
Vance Overbey, executive director of advertising and sponsorships at Cingular says the Atlanta-based company has been running a :30 cellphone courtesy spot in The 2wenty. "For us to be running in places like movie theaters, the cellphone courtesy message is the most appropriate. Theaters rank right behind houses of worship as the most annoying place to hear a cellphone ring," he said. But he's open to doing long-form messaging. "We have no current plans beyond our current :30 creative but if a concept surfaces that warrants a reconsideration, we'd certainly do so." Overbey also acknowledged the potential of extending a brand's general market campaign to the theater.
Unlike other cinema chains, who "sneak" their advertising block in by running it at the advertised movie start time, Regal finishes The 2wenty at the start time, positioning it as a separate entity that viewers would want to come early to see.
"This shows respect to their customer. That approach goes a long way to break down the barriers that have traditionally existed in the reluctance of moviegoers to be advertised to in the theater," said Marc Shmuger, vice-chairman for Universal Pictures. "And the other thing they understood and are innovators of is if you're going to be talking to a captive audience, don't just be pushing out ads at them but rather be creating entertaining, informative, original entertainment."
During the window leading up to last summer's "The Hulk," a two-minute and 45-second piece was done about how the Hulk roller coaster ride was put together, which Shmuger said was a great calling card for the Universal Studios theme park in Florida. Another 2wenty piece promoting "The Hulk" was done in the style of the special features found in movie DVD releases with Marvel Comics guru Stan Lee talking about the original vision of the character and the authors' intent. Shmuger says the 2wenty content is an effective complement to the studio's traditional marketing campaign.
"To be honest, there is no standard percentage in terms of what we devote to [platforms like 2wenty]," says Shmuger. "It's really picture-to-picture. I think what this case points to is that media is changing fast."
John Miller, chief marketing officer for the newly merged NBC Universal Television Group—including the broadcast network, all of the cable properties like Bravo and CNBC and the syndication properties—is another content partner.
Miller has utilized The 2wenty to run retrospectives of "Friends" and "Frasier," leading up to the series finales, and is planning a July piece promoting the summer Olympics in Athens followed by an August behind-the-scenes, making-of clip for NBC's new animated show "Father of the Pride."
%%PULLQUOTE_LEFT%% He also finds value in the branding opportunities available at the concession stand—popcorn bags or drink cups—and with messaging on plasma screens in many of the lobbies. "If you're to buy cinema advertising like Screenvision—which we've bought—it is a very expensive CPM, sometimes 2-3 times a network [TV] CPM…What Regal has worked out in their model is that once you add up all the impressions, the CPMs come down considerably," said Miller. NBC is currently in the second year of its two-year deal with Regal and Miller said he's in negotiations for an extension.
As for Shmuger, the jury is still out in terms of whether Universal's involvement in The 2wenty has put more butts in seats for the studio's releases. Shmuger says that Regal tracking studies indicate Universal's pieces on The 2wenty are creating "positive impressions" but he warned against making too much of the research.
"Our campaigns are so extensive that ultimately we're creating a patchwork of impressions driving [consumer] interest so we can't really identify one particular tactic," he says. Ang Lee's rendering of "The Hulk" limped out of the gate by Hollywood summer standards last summer, but with the increased emphasis of studio revenue models on DVD and international markets, studio execs like Shmuger are probably banking on The 2wenty acting as a valuable tool throughout the lifecycle of a product.