Screenvision's Matt Arden on Unlocking Cinema Preshow Storytelling

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Cover image for  article: Screenvision's Matt Arden on Unlocking Cinema Preshow Storytelling

There is consensus among premium video platform providers and advertisers that strategic, creative messaging, delivered at the right time and in the right context, can spark a profound viewer connection with content and compel a consumer to act.  With this in mind, Screenvision Media is seeking to break the mold of cinema advertising by making changes to the Screenvision Front+Center preshow screened just before the grandest premium videos of all: movies!  It's a new approach being designed by Matt Arden, Senior Vice President Brand Creative, Programming and Innovation, who recently talked with MediaVillage and revealed details. 

Mary Ellen Holden:  Why address the current preshow format now?

Matt Arden:  It's time. The cinema preshow model in the U.S. market has been reasonably static for years with set content and advertising pods and trivia interstitials. The primary focus was on the experience closest to showtime, which is immensely important but inadequate. Today, we know that moviegoers enter the theater starting as early as 20 minutes prior to the posted showtime; therefore, we want to give equal attention and energy to the entire preshow program.  For example, there is an opportunity to further connect to the community, local merchants and moviegoers, with contextual local programming.  At a time when, according to Borrell, local ad spend is expected to increase 7% in 2018, we would be remiss if we were not to cultivate this local audience.  I see us engaging more in "farm to table" advertising because people like where they're from and want those connections.

Holden:  Can you give me an example of local storytelling that you felt was particularly strong?

Arden:  During the Olympics, we launched a regional campaign in U.S. Olympian hometown markets, congratulating them on their accomplishments. Audiences and exhibitors loved it.  It wasn't the same old messaging on-screen as it tapped into personal relationships within the community.  I think people underestimate how much pride people have in their hometown.

Holden:  How and where are you looking for new models?

Arden:  We are looking to evolve to a format that still has its roots in cinema without limiting ourselves.  We want to understand programming and advertising successes and failures across platforms.  We're finding inspiration from cinema in Asia, India and England, as well as from digital and OTT networks.  The models that seem to be working abroad utilize a shorter format with more entertainment segments.  Similarly, we are seeing that snackable premium video segments appeal to our young, increasingly multi-cultural audience.

Holden:  What does a great preshow look like?

Arden:  Our preshow is essentially a blank 22-25-minute canvas every month.  Historically, we programmed three content "pods."  Moving forward, we are starting to program the rest of the show with unique storytelling, trailers, branded content, trivia and interstitial entertainment.  We're breaking up the model to employ segments of varying lengths, interactive elements and engaging short-form entertainment.  We will create some ourselves and subsequently syndicate this content beyond cinema screens.  We will also source content from leading programmers to support and amplify our editorial voice.  We even plan to include gaming and are actively engaging with technology to enable storytelling of all forms.

Holden:  How does research inform your thinking?

Arden:  Research provides us with data insights which enable us to approach programming strategically.  For example, we know from various studies that storytelling is perceived to be more emotional in cinema as the communal environment encourages the audience to have a shared experience.  The Olympic hometown campaign was sparked by this research and clearly resonated in local markets.

Holden:  How are you integrating advertisers?

Arden:  Currently we are focused on our Early Pre-Show (EPS) which runs prior to the posted showtime.  This is where we get to integrate advertisers into programming, as we lead up to advertising that runs right before the trailers.  Our EPS includes some national advertisers, all of our local and regional advertisers, and theater partner messaging.  Last year we experimented with a local spotlight feature called Corner Stories, and we plan to expand this initiative in 2018.  Shortly, we'll share more about this program and how it is embedded in the local community to support small businesses.

Holden:  What types of innovations are you experimenting with today?

Arden:  We are experimenting with original content, interactive technologies, e-commerce … you name it, we're gonna try it.  We are testing right now.  Everything from revamping movie trivia (stay tuned) to allowing moviegoers to wish friends and family a Happy Birthday.  Don't be surprised to see "Mary Ellen, will you marry me on-screen!"  We are also beta-testing automation which would allow local businesses to create and upload their own ads in real time.  We like to soft launch some of these initiatives just to see reactions.  We find that this real-time interaction with our audience is more important to our decision making now than it was in the past.

Holden:  What do you see as the future?

Arden:  With TV ratings erosion and the proliferation of online premium video we are uniquely positioned to create preshows that enable storytelling to maximize the uniqueness of the cinema platform where the movies are the most important part of the story, but not the complete cinema experience.  Opportunities are endless, and I couldn't be more excited to explore the space.

Photo credit:  Screenvision Media

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