Cinema Advertising's Robust Rebound

By Thought Leaders Archives
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With movies once again playing to capacity audiences and boffo box-office, how quickly will the post-pandemic cinema advertising marketplace rebound? Very quickly, say executives from the companies charged with attracting commitments for cinematic messages, then placing them in a content collection that appears before the feature presentation. These selections usually run 30, 45 or 60 minutes as people find their seats and settle into the movie they came to watch.

"We're going to take our place back in the cinema world," says Michael Sakin, President of Spotlight Cinema Networks. "We're looking forward to it, now with the pandemic in our rear-view mirror. We're all looking forward to a robust future and getting back in the marketplace." As of early April, executives speaking with MediaVillageexpect to increase their relationship with current advertisers, while attracting new business from a variety of product categories.

Before the coronavirus pandemic spread across the U.S. in 2020, Pricewaterhouse Coopers predicted in an entertainment industry survey that cinema ad sales would break the $1 billion barrier by this year. Cinema Advertising Council, the trade union representing this ad sector, has not offered a 2022 forecast yet. For 2019 -- the latest year this group has provided annual results -- advertisers spent $809.7 million on in-theater messages.

National CineMedia President of Sales and Marketing Partnerships Scott Felenstein, who also serves Cinema Advertising Council as Chairman and President, declines the opportunity to judge if sales will approach or surpass $1 billion this year. "I'm bullish about the return," he observes. "The timing synchs up nicely."

What's clear for Felenstein and his counterparts at other cinema ad organizations is that how strong the sales comeback will be depends on two factors. One is delivery of specific demographic audiences. At National CineMedia and Screenvision Media, that demographic is adults 18-35, increasingly multicultural, who rarely watch TV -- or when they do, subscribe to Netflix, Amazon and other ad-free streaming services. Felenstein labels this crowd the unreachables; Screenvision calls them the unconnectables.

"The advertisers that we're really looking to speak to this year are those having a hard time reaching that younger audience through linear TV or media platforms in general," explains Christine Martino, Screenvision's Chief Revenue Officer. "We're reaching the cord-cutters and the cord-nevers."

Spotlight's target demo is upscale adults 35-49, likely to show up at either theaters that specialize in independently made feature films, or the growing existence of luxury dining establishments that offer movies and restaurants in the same space.

For Sakin, the luxury environment caters well to sponsors selling expensive cars, merchandise and trips. "We're a place where they can be with the right environment with the right eyes," he says.

How well cinema ad companies encourage theatergoers to watch the pre-feature presentations where the ads show up is the other factor impacting sales this year. The days of watching ad after ad before watching trailer after trailer of upcoming films on the way to showtime are over. Look for these formats -- Front & Center from Screenvision, Noovie at National CineMedia and Spotlight's just-rebranded Cinelife -- to package more original content, including ongoing series on entertainers, pop culture and lifestyle topics between ads. In-house units, such as Noovie Studios at NCM, will develop these short subjects and work with advertisers to create contextual messages that complements the feature on display, or the audience watching.

"The content has to be entertaining and engaging," notes John Partilla, Screenvision's Chief Executive Officer. "We want to celebrate creative storytelling from the ads. Our pre-show should be a show that's engaging and involving. It has to be an incredibly rewarding customer experience."

At Spotlight, Cinelife will run one set of pre-shows for the independent/art house theaters and a different set for the luxury dining locations. Both will tap up-and-coming talent, recommended by the American Film Institute and film festival organizers, to produce two-to-five-minute scripted vignettes. With a more flexible format, commercials "will stand out," Sakin believes. "And then you will have the recall that all advertisers are paying for and desire."

"Some agencies want you to come to them with an idea to tie their brand messaging, then produce and execute it," Felenstein says when discussing the formation of Noovie Studios a few months ago. "We needed a one-stop solution to appeal to them. It was a natural place to go and be a player. If you're going to be in, you have to be all in."

And what about reaching $1 billion in annual sales? "Whether that happens this year, or the next year or two, I think we'll all be there [and] cross that barrier," Sakin says.

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