Studios hope NBA delivers

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Universal Pictures and 20th Century Fox, scanning the TV dial for a cache of young male action-movie fans, have inked separate deals with Time Warner's cable network TNT to promote summer thrillers "Van Helsing" and "The Day After Tomorrow" during NBA playoff games.

The co-branded promotions, which will include tune-in spots, billboards, online integration and in-game vignettes, come at a time when marketers are looking beyond network prime time for a place to find heavy entertainment users, particularly young men.

TNT posted double-digit growth year-to-year in young male demographics, with a 21% increase in men 18 to 34, the prime moviegoing audience, according to Nielsen Media Research. Nielsen figures have shown a significant drop in network viewing among that demo.

Both deals include straight media buys from the studios. The promotion for Universal's "Van Helsing" begins this week and will continue through the movie's opening on May 7. The hype around Fox's "The Day After Tomorrow" will happen during May's Western Conference finals, which has a number of games on Thursday nights, a prime media window for launching a movie. "The Day After Tomorrow" opens Memorial Day weekend, kicking off the traditional summer blockbuster season.

penetration

"The goal is to penetrate the culture, to be more topical and make a stronger impact than [we would with] a trailer," said Jeffrey Godsick, exec VP-marketing at Fox. "It's about presenting something interesting and fun."

Fox plans several other sports-pegged promotions, with Walt Disney Co.'s ABC Sports and ESPN, sibling Fox Sports regional networks and at arenas during the Eastern Conference finals. A common thread will be the movie's weather-gone-wild theme integrated into pre-game shows, on-air taglines and arena events. Lightning and thunder special effects, for instance, will fill the venues before the trailer shows on the Jumbotron. ABC Sports' "Play Like There's No Tomorrow" tagline mirrors the movie's theme, and pre-game shows will contain numerous mentions of the film. Commentators on all the partner networks will liberally sprinkle weather terms throughout game coverage, with accompanying on-air effects that will "freeze" a play or turn a basketball star into a tornado.

elusive target

The TNT promotions "thematically enhance the message of a movie beyond a typical trailer," said Chris Eames, senior VP-sponsorships and marketing at Turner Sports and Entertainment. "And we're speaking to an audience with a high concentration of young males, an elusive target."

The vignettes, a collaboration between TNT and the studios, intersperse movie scenes with basketball highlights, melding the fantasy film worlds with on-court action and the NBA's marquee stars. Both studios have released footage to the network that won't be part of trailers or other advertising.

Universal has worked with TNT on previous summer and holiday movies, using the NBA as a platform to open such hits as "The Mummy," "The Hulk" and "The Cat in the Hat." The studio's special effects-laden "Van Helsing" stars Hugh Jackman as a monster hunter and is expected to be the centerpiece of a multimedia play for the studio that will include a TV spinoff, interactive entertainment, theme-park attractions and merchandise.

"Day After Tomorrow," a big-budget disaster movie about global warming, stars Sela Ward, Dennis Quaid and Jake Gyllenhaal. The film was written and directed by Roland Emmerich, whose hits include "The Patriot" and "Independence Day."

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