In fact, the move was prompted by some of the woes assailing broadcast TV in recent months, said Donna Speciale, president-investment and activation, MediaVest. "The bottom line is that the ratings erosion hasn't stopped," Ms. Speciale said. "We are really looking to take a proactive approach and say, 'You know what? We can't keep our money in TV.'"
Broadcast TV has long been touted as the most efficient way to reach millions of people in one fell swoop, a belief obviously still held by the marketers that committed $9.2 billion in the upfront-sales period last summer. Several chinks, however, have developed in the medium's armor. Audiences continue to wander to emerging media; so-called scatter inventory is tight and pricey; and more consumers can zap past commercials with the use of DVRs. The writers strike, which commenced Nov. 5, has wiped out much of the original programming that draws viewers to the venue.
'More viable option'
MediaVest's talks with the two cinema-ad networks, Screenvision and National CineMedia, could still fall apart, according to the parties involved, and were instigated by MediaVest. Key to the idea's success is teaching potential advertisers about the movie screen as an ad venue. "As the weeks go on and the strike keeps lingering ... [cinema] is becoming a much more viable option," Ms. Speciale said.
Cinema advertising has gained ground in recent years, particularly as the cinema-ad companies have built national distribution and developed finesse. NCM reaches more than 14,000 screens, for instance, while Screenvision has more than 15,500 screens. At the same time, digital technology allows advertisers to target different audiences. A package-goods advertiser might not run an ad before an R-rated movie, but could choose a PG option. At theaters, advertisers can also extend their ads by launching promotions in lobbies, said Norm Chait, senior VP-director of out of home, MediaVest. In 2006, cinema advertising increased 15% to $455.6 million, according to the Cinema Advertising Council, up from $394.8 million in 2005.
A Hollywood ending isn't guaranteed. The idea of subjugating theatergoers to ads they didn't pay to see has prompted controversy in recent years. And some marketers run lackluster ads or spots that have been aired elsewhere for months.
Both National CineMedia and Screenvision have developed "pre-show" programs that feature clips from TV shows and movies -- an effort to make movie-theater ads more palatable. NCM also urges advertisers to consider running new ads in its auditoriums, said Cliff Marks, the company's president-sales and chief marketing officer.
Pulling dollars from broadcast is tough because it's hard to equal its reach elsewhere. Internet video still is not developed enough to absorb all of the marketing dollars that might shift from TV.
Instead, it appears marketers are increasingly turning to cable to make up for broadcast shortfalls. CNN, for example, started seeing dollars head its way seven weeks ago. "We anticipated it, with the tight scatter market," said Greg D'Alba, exec VP-chief operating officer of ad sales at CNN. One ESPN executive confirmed seeing ad dollars rise about a month ago, and the network has already locked in its upfront presentation for mid-May, no matter how the broadcast crowd handles its upfront meetings.
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Contributing: Andrew Hampp