NATIONAL CINEMA INTRODUCES COUNTDOWN: SERVICE PROVIDES A NEW VEHICLE FOR IN-THEATER ADS

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National Cinema Network, which markets ad-supported entertainment to movie theaters, has signed CBS, United Paramount Network, BMW of North America and Ford Motor Co.'s Lincoln Mercury Division to a new vehicle called Pre-Show Countdown.

Rolling out nationally this month through AMC Theaters and others, Pre-Show Countdown seeks to be the solution to running ads during the moviegoing experience.

DreamWorks Pictures, Walt Disney Co. and Warner Bros. currently prohibit theaters from airing ads in the time between the dimming of house lights and the beginning of their movies, except for house ads and movie trailers.

COUNTING OFF MOMENTS

With Pre-Show Countdown, a recorded message before the lights go down tells the audience the film they've paid to see will begin in two minutes. In that time, no more than four commercials will be shown. Between spots, updates tick off time remaining until a film begins.

"Our philosophy is not be to rude and disrespectful to the audience, but ask politely for a moment of their time and let them know this will only last for a short time," said Bob Martin, NCN president.

NCN's research has shown consumers don't mind the other products it markets or distributes, including the ad-supported, slide-based On-Screen Entertainment.

To get around the prohibition some studios have against TV-style commercials, advertisers on Pre-Show Countdown can opt for "still format" -- a series of still shots giving the impression of movement.

LINCOLN MERCURY TRIES STILL

Lincoln Mercury has opted for this version, although it happens the ad was created in this "still format" without NCN in mind. The spot, which will eventually air on TV, is part of a larger integrated marketing campaign this fall for the new Mercury Cougar.

It's not known if Pre-Show Countdown and the still format will appease Disney, DreamWorks and Warner Bros. Spokespersons for those studios weren't aware of the service and declined comment.

KANSAS CITY TEST

NCN tested the product in Kansas City, Mo. It will spread to 600 screens by the end of this month, including locations in the Northeast and Southern California, regions where moviegoers have opposed such advertising.

Sometime this fall, NCN expects to be on 2,500 screens, reaching 5,000 by early next year.

A four-week national flight will cost $500,000 once NCN gets Pre-Show Countdown onto a significant number of screens. Advertisers can buy local and regional pacts as well.

The value of its first ad deals wasn't disclosed.

CBS begins its flight Aug. 28. Once concluded, UPN takes over for four weeks. BMW comes aboard in November. CBS might return in November for a sweeps-month push.

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