Readies New 'Softer' Pre-Movie Format

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LOS ANGELES ( -- National CineMedia, which sells ad time on 14,000 theater screens, is revamping its pre-show program to make it more palatable to marketing-weary moviegoers who might be inclined to skip the 20-minute promotions-and-ad package.
New moves to make pre-movie advertising more palatable to consumers come as theater attendance continues to decline.
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The move is part of a trend in theaters to juice up the pre-show offerings, aiming to get people in their seats in time to watch advertiser messages. Screenvision, which sells ads for chains like Loews, recently reworked its pre-show via a deal with E! Entertainment Television.

20% growth
The in-theater ad business, while still small compared to traditional media spends like TV, has been growing rapidly in recent years, with 20% growth expected by year's end.

National CineMedia, a joint venture of AMC Entertainment, Regal Entertainment Group and Cinemark USA, will retire the 3-year-old pre-show program called "The Twenty" and replace it with "First Look." The new pre-show will feature exclusive bits of entertainment from partners NBC Universal, Sony, Turner Broadcasting and Fox. This week, the pre-show will include behind-the-scenes footage, interviews with filmmakers and other new material from Universal Pictures' upcoming action movie King Kong. The repackaged and rebranded pre-show formally launches in December.

Blamed for box-office woes
Ads on the big screen continue to be a hot topic, with some consumer groups and cinephiles blaming them for the downturn in this year's box office and the general erosion of the movie-going experience. National CineMedia executives say their research shows that 78% of moviegoers like the pre-show, but that it needs to evolve to become less marketing-driven and more seamless with the trailers and feature film after it.

"It's a softer, gentler pre-show," said Cliff Marks, National CineMedia's president of sales and marketing. "It's not as in-your-face. It's an entertainment magazine."

National CineMedia's chains schedule the pre-show, which will remain about 20 minutes, to end at the advertised start time of the trailers and feature. Executives provided new King Kong footage because they want to reward moviegoers with exclusive sneak peeks and help build a better overall theater experience, a Universal spokesman said.

MasterCard promotion
Fox, a new partner in the pre-show program, will launch a promotion next month in National CineMedia theater lobbies with MasterCard. The "First Look" sweepstakes, intended to hype the pre-show, will send winners to the premiere of Fox's animated family film Ice Age 2.

Marketers have been encouraged to create spots specifically for the big screen instead of recycling TV ads. Wal-Mart, a new in-theater advertiser, plans a 60-second image spot in December to encourage holiday shopping. Sears also is planning its first theater ads, and other marketers will use the big screen to break ads before migrating them to other media, Mr. Marks said.

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