Popcornucopia: Summer Movie Dollars Pour Into TV

Studios Pony Up to Hype Sequels, Reboots and Kiddie Flicks

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'The Secret Life of Pets,' which opens July 8, has an estimated $33.7 million in national TV advertising behind it so far, including time in Super Bowl 50 and the NBA Finals.
'The Secret Life of Pets,' which opens July 8, has an estimated $33.7 million in national TV advertising behind it so far, including time in Super Bowl 50 and the NBA Finals. Credit: Universal Pictures

Most of the summer superhero movies may have come and gone, but a deluge of upcoming popcorn flicks is making this a season to remember for the TV networks.

According to iSpot.tv estimates, the top 10 film studios this far have invested $474.9 million to promote their summer releases on national TV, a figure that will only continue to swell as the temperature rises. The most profligate spender is Universal Pictures, which has ponied up $103.2 million to hype a roster of flicks that includes "The Secret Life of Pets," "Jason Bourne" and "The Purge: Election Year," which opened July 1.

Also digging in deep are Twentieth Century Fox, which has funneled $82.6 million to broadcast and cable networks to get fannies in seats for the likes of "Independence Day: Resurgence," "Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates" and "X-Men: Apocalypse," and Warner Bros., which has spent $63.8 million on airtime for "Central Intelligence," "The Conjuring 2" and "The Legend of Tarzan."

As one might expect, a good deal of those movie dollars were pinned to the 2016 NBA Finals on ABC. The biggest reach vehicle of the summer -- only NBC's presentation of the Summer Olympics will draw a larger crowd -- the seven-game series averaged 20.3 million viewers and a 11.4 household rating.

Universal has bought $33.7 million in national TV inventory to promote the animated "Secret Life of Pets," including a $4.6 million unit in CBS's coverage of Super Bowl 50 and a few spots in the NBA Finals. The family-friendly "Pets," which features voiceover work by comics Louis C.K., Kevin Hart and Steve Coogan, opens July 8.

Twentieth's "Independence Day" sequel is another summer release that used the Super Bowl as a launch pad for its promotional campaign. All told, the studio has dropped $29.3 million to reach a broad national TV audience; unfortunately, "Resurgence" has proved to be a bit of a dud, raking in just $41 million in its opening weekend (June 24-26), or about a quarter of its $165 million production budget. To date, Roland Emmerich's aliens-vs.-humans spectacle has taken in $76.4 million in domestic receipts.

If "Independence Day: Resurgence" failed to meet the studio's expectations, Disney's "The BFG" is a flat-out flop. Despite having been the beneficiary of $24.8 million in TV spend, Steven Spielberg's adaptation of the eponymous Roald Dahl book bowed over the holiday weekend to a dismal $18.6 million. Disney leaned heavily on broadcast to promote the director's first Mouse House feature, airing the trailer multiple times during the NBA Finals as well as in NBC's "The Voice" and ABC's "The Bachelorette."

On the other side of the ledger are a few studios that are getting decidedly more bang for their promotional buck. While Warner Bros. has spent a relatively parsimonious $15.7 million on TV time for "The Conjuring 2," the low-budget horror pic not only recouped its $40 million production budget in its opening weekend, but in scaring up $96 million in domestic box office since June 10, it now stands as the tenth-biggest earner of 2016.

Disney-Pixar's "Finding Dory" is another cautious spender, with a total national TV investment of $22.7 million. After spots for the animated fish tale popped up everywhere from (you guessed it) the NBA Finals to Nickelodeon's "SpongeBob Squarepants," "Dory" opened June 17 to a whopping $135.1 million. In the three weeks since the movie hit theaters, it has generated $380.5 million in stateside ticket sales, making it the year's No. 2 release.

On the whole, the average TV spend for a U.S. release (not including network cross-promotion and merchandising tie-ins) falls in a range of $25 million to $30 million. For example, Marvel dumped $27 million into TV to create buzz for its epic superhero battle "Captain America: Civil War," which remains the No. 1 draw of 2016 with $405.6 million in domestic receipts.

Among the upcoming films that are getting the star treatment are the aforementioned "Secret Life of Pets" and Columbia Pictures' "Ghostbusters." The July 15 reboot has consumed $20.1 million worth of TV time, and at the risk of repeating ourselves, a sizable portion of that money was directed to ABC/ESPN and the NBA Finals. Other venues for the supernatural comedy include Fox's "Empire," the 2016 BET Awards and AMC's "Fear the Walking Dead."

Look for Columbia to lay down another $10 million on TV in the week leading up to the film's release.

The studio dollars should keep piling up later this month as Universal Pictures preps "Jason Bourne" and Paramount sets its phasers to fun [ugh, sorry] with the thirteenth film in the Star Trek canon, "Star Trek Beyond." To date, Universal has already locked in $13.7 million in TV time for Matt Damon's fourth turn as the amnesiac Ludlum spy, while Paramount has spent $12.6 million to fire up the Trekkie base.

Windfalls are also likely to proceed the premieres of Warner's "Suicide Squad," which opens August 5 and Lucasfilm's "Rogue One: A Star Wars Story" (Dec. 16). According to ComScore, the two films currently are generating the most social media chatter, and while much of it has been negative -- this is, after all, the internet -- it's safe to say that their respective TV spend will be commensurate with the sort of returns on investment the studios hope to make upon their release.

Since the unofficial start of the summer movie season ("Captain America: Civil War" opened on May 6), studios have spent $483.9 million on national TV inventory. Year-to-date, movie spend is just north of $1.33 billion, per iSpot.tv.

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