20-Minute Pre-Shows to Offer Branded Entertainment

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LOS ANGELES -- Screenvision is rolling out a new 20-minute pre-show program in movie theaters that will provide advertisers with the opportunity to showcase their latest branded-entertainment efforts.

The company has already signed up Verizon Wireless, Discovery Networks and Time Warner’s HBO to produce
Screenvision is revamping its pre-movie ad format of static slides and local ads to roll out 20-minute branded-entertainment content.

original content for the big-screen pre-show, including short films, behind-the-scenes bits and other forms of branded entertainment.

$40 million media buys

Marketers have agreed to spend $40 million in media during the duration of their deals, which Screenvision executives say are long-term but won’t specify the exact time frame.

The brands are part of the program from Screenvision, which sells in-theater promotions and ads on some 15,000 movie screens. Screenvision recently started launching a high-definition 20-minute digital pre-show that’s designed to look like a TV program. It’s a remake of earlier efforts, which consisted of a hodgepodge of local ads, static slides and traditional spots.

For the revamped pre-show, a host introduces the various segments, from sneak peeks at HBO miniseries like Rome to movie trivia and long-form ads.

Some of the content is pure non-branded entertainment, while much of it points to the marketing partners’ projects. There will be as much as four minutes, just before movie trailers start, devoted to traditional ads. That’s the same amount of time as in the past.

Screening short films

But the pre-show program could also provide advertisers with an outlet to screen short films like BMW’s The Hire series or Volkswagen of America’s The Check Up, which was introduced at the Sundance Film Festival. Marketers have already been using the coming attractions space for exactly that in Europe. For example, Mercedes-Benz targeted moviegoers with Lucky Star, a mock preview of a thriller starring Benicio Del Toro and directed by Michael Mann that was produced to show off the automaker’s sleek new SL roadster.

Screenvision’s largest rival, Regal Entertainment Group’s Regal CineMedia, has long had a 20-minute pre-show with entertainment and ads, with partners such as NBC Universal, Sony and Time Warner's Turner networks.

Screenvision’s digital pre-show is already in place at several chains, including Loew’s Cineplex and Mann Theaters. It will air on 5,000 screens by the end of next year, and a projected 10,000 screens by the end of 2008.

Verizon will start its on-screen content at the end of the summer, focusing on its V-Cast wireless services. HBO and Discovery already have started running entertainment pieces, including behind-the-scenes bits from the Hollywood-insider comedy Entourage and the new Animal Planet series Buggin’ With Ruud, respectively.

Creating customized content

“We’re creating customized content for this space and using it as a driver for tune-in,” said Chris Schembri, Discovery’s vice president of media planning and partnerships. “We think it gives the viewers a good inside look at what we have to offer and encourages sampling.”

The platform worked well for a recent Discovery Channel special, Alien Planet, and executives are scanning their third- and fourth-quarter shows for those likely to get big-screen promotion.

The Screenvision move comes at a time of intensifying pressure on theater chains. Box office has been slumping for 16 straight weeks, down 7% this year compared to last. Movie-going faces major challenges from video-on-demand, shrinking windows between theatrical and video/DVD release and more affordable home entertainment systems. Critics also have pointed to pre-show advertising as a disincentive fro consumers to fork over the hefty ticket price.

Instead of being a deterrent, the new pre-show is intended to be seamless and more engaging for moviegoers, said Stu Ballatt, Screenvision Cinema Network’s senior vice president of marketing. The previous content featured static slides, mostly for local businesses, and some ad spots that aired without an introduction. Both the old and new pre-shows have movie trivia, “visit the snack bar” ads and exhibitor messages like “Turn off your cell phone.”

“We think this is a great evolution,” Mr. Ballatt said. “It keeps some traditional aspects, but builds on that.”

Battling consumer discontent of screen ads

The pre-show ends at the published showtime. Executives at Loew’s theaters recently announced that they would publish two separate times for when the pre-show (read: ads) would happen and when the movie would begin. Many industry watchers said they thought the move was an effort to combat consumer discontent of big-screen ads.

Some industry watchers, on the other hand, say infotainment-based pre-shows give value to consumers.

“There’s an understood code between marketers and consumers, with consumers saying, ‘If you give me information that I find amusing, entertaining or useful, I understand that marketing will be a part of that,’” said John Barker, president and principal of DZP Marketing Communications. “Consumers have to be rewarded for their investment of time and attention.”

Executives at Screenvision, which controls the ads on about 60% of the country’s movie screens, said they did research with consumers before changing the pre-show program. More than half the people polled, 55%, said they liked the pre-show, and only 13% said they would prefer a blank movie screen before the trailers.

A recent TNS study commissioned by Screenvision found that moviegoers are 44% more likely to remember the ads than those consumers who saw the ads on TV, and moviegoers are 70% more likely to be able to identify the brands advertised in-theater.
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