Movies prime spots for ads

July 11, 2005|By Glenn Lovell | Glenn Lovell,KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

Nicole Kidman pushes Chanel No. 5. Val Kilmer points a Coolpix 2000 digital camera. Robert De Niro, wandering the mean streets of his New York, rhapsodizes over American Express. Not quite Oscar-worthy roles, but they've all made it to the big screen.

Commercials, once considered a rude interruption, have emerged as a multimillion-dollar cash cow for theater chains across the nation. Though many viewers find the ads annoying, it's Hollywood's younger ticket buyers, ages 14 to 34, who are generating the demand to produce more such spots.

"I'm used to commercials from TV, and some are so cool," said Laleh Hamadani, a 26-year-old student at De Anza College in Cupertino, Calif. "It's fun seeing them on the big screen."

It's that kind of attitude that helped push movie advertising sales and other so-called "pre-show entertainment" last year to $438 million, $82 million more than in 2003, according to figures just released by the Cinema Advertising Council in New York.

And, in contrast to the summer's lagging box office, this business is only expected to grow as the number of cell phone and car spots -- some costing as much as $2 million to produce -- increases and resistance to such ads decreases.

"We're becoming a mainstream form of advertising," said Matthew Kearney, chief executive officer of Screenvision, a New York company that sells ad space on 15,000 screens. "If you have an entertaining, well-produced message that you want to take to the cinema-going audience, which is relatively young and affluent, there's no better way of doing it than on the cinema screen."

It helps that theaters offer the ultimate billboards -- 40-by-18-foot screens with Dolby Digital sound. They make pitches that would seem pedestrian and annoying on TV seem hip and exhilarating -- particularly to younger viewers who have grown up in a commercialized America. Companies can also niche-market by affixing ads to G- or R-rated movies, and by allocating their budgets to the summer or the fall Oscar season.

"Our ads are particularly strong with 18- to 34-year-olds who go to the movies more frequently," said Kearney, whose clients include the Mann and Loews chains. "This is a very difficult demographic to reach because, instead of watching TV, more and more people are playing video games or watching TiVo."

On-screen advertising is hardly new. It dates to the 1970s and '80s in the United States -- when 60-second Kodak, Nike and Apple spots first appeared -- and it continues to be an accepted part of the moviegoing experience in Europe.

Captive Motion Picture Audience of America, a group opposed to movie advertising, is attempting to rally filmgoers to complain to theater owners to get them to stop the practice.

"We, the captive audience, have had enough," CMPAA stated in an open letter to theater owners. "TV commercials belong on television, not before movies that we pay for."

Such distaste runs counter to AMC's and Screenvision's findings. Both companies report that complaints about ads are extremely rare. Out of its 170 million patrons nationwide, AMC has had fewer than 300 complaints -- or "one complaint for every 600,000 guests," according to Pam Blase, AMC's vice president of corporate communications.

"Some people like it, some don't," she said. "We don't see people caring enough about it to complain."

Besides, Kearney added, "Our advertising is more interesting to watch than a blank screen."

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