But it may do more. A new study shows that "2wenty" performs better than standard cinema ads in terms of unaided recall, a good result for Regal, which bet big by plowing $70 million into digitizing its theaters to create a Digital Content Network it owns as part of Regal Entertainment Group.
The idea was to eschew traditional staples of pre-screening filler such as static movie-trivia slides and quotidian come-ons from local businesspeople. Instead "2wenty" features a 20-minute block of long-form branded programming from content partners NBC Universal, Sony Pictures Entertainment, and Turner Broadcasting while offering brands such as Coca-Cola Co. and Cingular Wireless standard :30 second commercials or long-form brand messaging of their own.
"The advertising in the cinema is part of the content," said Cliff Marks, president-marketing and sales, Regal CineMedia.
Moviegoers are paying attention. A February 2004 custom study for Regal by King Brown & Partners of San Francisco shows ads running in 2wenty have 27% higher unaided recall than standard pre-show advertising.
Vance Overbey, executive director-advertising and sponsorships at Cingular, said the company has been running a 30-second spot urging cellphone courtesy in "2wenty." "Theaters rank right behind houses of worship as the most annoying place to hear a cell phone ring," he said, adding he's open extending a brand's general-market campaign to the theater.
Unlike other cinema chains, which "sneak" their advertising block in by running it at the advertised movie start time, Regal finishes "2wenty" at the movie's start time, positioning "2wenty" as a separate entity that viewers would want to come early to see. "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, Universal Pictures. Regal, he said, understood that "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-45-second piece was done about how the Hulk roller-coaster ride was put together, which Mr. Shmuger said was a great calling card for the Universal Studios theme park in Florida. Another 2wenty piece promoting "The Hulk" featured Marvel Comics guru Stan Lee talking about the original vision of the character.
John Miller, chief marketing officer for the newly merged NBC Universal Television Group, a content partner, has used "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."
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 lobbies. "If you're to buy cinema advertising like Screenvision ... it's a very expensive CPM, sometimes two to three times a network CPM. ... What Regal has worked out ... is that once you add up the impressions, CPMs come down considerably." NBC is in the second year of its two-year deal with Regal and is in negotiations for an extension.