NCM President Cliff Marks on Getting Back To The Movies

By NCM Archives
Cover image for  article: NCM President Cliff Marks on Getting Back To The Movies

I've always been a huge fan of the Rocky movies, but little did I think I'd be living that story in my own career. When I departed from ESPN in 2002 to start Regal CineMedia, the precursor of National CineMedia (NCM), I thought we could be a contender, but even I didn't imagine that we would build the biggest Cinema media company in the world; nor could I ever foresee that our little engine that could, the company that helped define cinema advertising in America, would get hit with flash knockdown so unexpectedly.

When you're leading a media company, you know that there's always some other network or medium out there gunning for you, and you learn to roll with the punches. NCM has had lots of competitors over the years, and we've won and lost some fights, but I could never have predicted that we'd be knocked out by a silent opponent, a sucker puncher, a real brawler who shut us down with no warning and no mercy. That nasty upstart was COVID-19, and it really hit us below the belt with the government-mandated closure of all movie theaters in March. All of a sudden, the one thing that makes Cinema so uniquely impactful – the engaging theater environment with its communal in-person audience experience – was the thing that made us so uniquely impacted by the virus.

Of course, cinema advertising is not the only media business to suffer in these unprecedented times. Most media companies have reported business being softer with a flurry of refunds or shift requests with customer necessity demanding greater scheduling flexibility and cancelation options. I'm especially sympathetic toward the sports and live entertainment industries that are also currently on the ropes, although with more options and opportunities. There are still a lot of unknowns in this bout, but the one thing I know for sure is that none of us are ready to throw in the towel.

Like Rocky said, "Let me tell you something you already know. The world ain't all sunshine and rainbows. It's a very mean and nasty place, and I don't care how tough you are, it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it. You, me, or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life. But it ain't about how hard you hit. It's about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward; how much you can take and keep moving forward. That's how winning is done!"

Cinema has some truly great people in our corner, and I have been humbled by the support I've heard from many of our agency and brand partners with their steadfast commitment to remain loyal to the Cinema medium when we all get back to the movies. I'm also thankful for our great studios and filmmakers like Christopher Nolan, who was adamant that Tenet be the first blockbuster on the big screen where it belongs in U.S. theaters on September 3. And our theater partners have been with us training hard to welcome movie audiences back beginning this week with their own branded safety initiatives like AMC Safe & Clean in partnership with Clorox, The Cinemark Standard, and Regal's extensive new programs, all of which include effective social distancing and reduced auditorium capacities, masks, air filtration systems, cashless transactions, and many sophisticated and enhanced cleaning protocols. We even have good doctors who tell us that movie theaters pose less risk than many other places people are going right now.

The Cinema medium is even more vital today than when we created this company back in 2002, and there is no shortage of research that shows how much Americans miss going the movies! Movie theaters are an integral part of our culture, and going to the movies is the most simple, affordable, and fundamental form of escapism and entertainment. And ironically, because of the movie slate shifting due to the pandemic, we now have an incredible fight card full of big titles for fans and brands to look forward to in Q4 2020 and throughout 2021.

I strongly believe in the power of the big screen, the passion of storytellers, and the unmatched experience of theatrical exhibition that consumers love. There will never be another experience quite like sitting among complete strangers and laughing or crying together in the dark.Hopefully all Americans will continue to follow our coach's advice and socially distance and wear masks so that, together, we can beat this COVID heavyweight and resume our lives. It's been a long intermission, but Cinema is ready to get back in the ring.

"'Cause all I wanna do is go the distance."

Register now to join Ken Thewes, CMO of Regal, and me on September 15 at 1pm ET when we join Jack Myers for a Leadership Conversation to preview the new cinema experience for audiences and brands.

Photos courtesy of Cinemark.

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