Studios' work tough to handle

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The winning shops in both Sony Pictures Entertainment's $250 million account and New Line Cinema's $100 million business will need to be highly proficient in spot buying and able to shift media plans at a moment's notice.

In the New Line contest, the sole competition to incumbent Independent Media Services, New York, is Aegis Group's Carat USA, Los Angeles. In the Sony pitch, incumbent Interpublic Group of Cos.' Universal McCann, New York, is up against Zenith Media Group, New York, and WPP Group's Media Edge, New York.

Studio accounts are labor-intensive. During a typical three-week launch of a media plan for a movie, studios get daily qualitative research from big movie research companies, like the National Research Group, that often result in quick shifts in media placement to accommodate new target audiences.

"You need someone who wants to redo their work everyday," said Bobbi Blair, president of BBI, a media consulting firm. Ms. Blair ran the theatrical media department at Walt Disney Co. in the `80s and early `90s and, in recent years, was a consultant for Sony.

"Spot TV gets short shrift," she said. "Agencies don't give it respect. [For movies] they need to do it a hundred times. [Agencies would] rather do national media."

Universal McCann has much of this knowledge. It's been the incumbent for Sony since 1987, when Sony, then called Columbia Pictures, was owned by Coca-Cola Co.

Jeff Blake, Sony's president of worldwide marketing and distribution, has said that although he is happy with McCann's work, a change in the marketing department warranted the review. That change came late last year, when Bob Levin, president of worldwide marketing, left.

A media executive not involved in the review said that during the negotiations McCann was looking to get out from under a low fee structure linked to the Coca-Cola deal. Coke also is a client of Universal McCann.

Typically, movie fees are about 4% of billings, but McCann is said to be working for less than 3%. McCann could not be reached for comment on its fees at press time.

Given that profit margins are so tight, observers said it's no surprise that Media Edge would want to pitch both Sony's studio and electronics business to make the account more profitable.

In the New Line review, "I'm just sitting tight," said Neil Aronstam, president and treasurer of Independent Media Services, who adds he doesn't know when the review will be completed. "One thing for sure, I'll be working for a movie studio by the end of the year. I hope it's New Line."

A former Independent Media Services executive said New Line has been swept away by Carat's research capabilities. Carat also has film experience. And in recent years, ICG, the predecessor shop to Carat USA, Los Angeles, handled some work for small independent Trimark Pictures.

But Andrew Lein, VP-account services at Palisades Media Group, Santa Monica, Calif., which buys media for Mirimax Films, Artisan Entertainment and Fox Searchlight, said, "Movie companies want movie research-not media research. You want to know what percentage of moviegoers are watching `Friends.' But that kind of research doesn't exist. Carat doesn't have that kind of research-no one does."

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