Waiting for the Movie? Shall We Play a Game?

Cinemas Features

There are many reasons to get to the theatre early, but with the relatively new amenity of advance reserved seating, some cinemagoers are opting to arrive closer to the scheduled showtime of the main feature film, skipping the pre-show advertising reel as well as studio trailers for upcoming titles.

Companies like National CineMedia and TimePlay are focusing on designing multiple ways to get you into your seat as early as possible, and one of these incentives for doing so is being able to participate in their pre-show gaming events.

National CineMedia

National CineMedia (NCM) is “America’s Movie Network.” As the number-one Millennial weekend network in the U.S., NCM connects brands with movie audiences. Over 750 million moviegoers attend theatres currently under contract to present NCM’s “Noovie” pre-show, which plays on the cinema screens of 49 leading national and regional theatre circuits including the three largest domestic-based ones: AMC, Cinemark and Regal.

NCM’s cinema-advertising network offers broad reach and audience engagement with a footprint of over 20,600 screens (more than half of all U.S.-based auditoriums) in 1,700 theatres across 187 Designated Market Areas (DMAs). NCM Digital goes beyond the big screen, extending in-theatre campaigns into online and mobile marketing programs to reach entertainment audiences.

Company president Cliff Marks states, “When we set out to reimagine the pre-show with the launch of Noovie this past fall, we designed it to stretch beyond the theatre to be an integrated Noovie digital ecosystem delivering entertaining content, purposeful commerce, and interactive gaming opportunities for movie audiences.

“Last year’s acquisition of Fantasy Movie League, the box-office predictions game co-created by ESPN's senior fantasy analyst Matthew Berry that combines the fierce competition of fantasy sports with the insanely popular world of entertainment and movies, was the first step in our gaming strategy.”

Subsequent to that purchase, NCM introduced its “Name That Movie” trivia game onscreen and on its Noovie social channels. During CinemaCon week, the company is also officially launching its first Noovie companion app, Noovie ARcade.

“Noovie leads people to what’s next in entertainment, and for today’s Millennial and Gen-Z moviegoers, that is Augmented Reality,” says Marks. “People love gaming, and our ability to integrate mobile gaming with movie-centric content is sure to be a hit with audiences.” 

Noovie ARcade is the first to allow audiences to play interactive augmented-reality games on the big screen and beyond using their cellphone as the game controller, with games like “Cinevaders,” “Emoji Escape” and “Munchie Mania.”

NCM also plans to build out a variety of driving, throwing, tossing and shooting games, which can be easily skinned to incorporate brand or studio partner IP into the action. These games are just the first step in the future of cinema advertising, according to the company.

As more and more people download the Noovie ARcade app, driving meaningful audience engagement, NCM thinks AR can play an important role in creating audience satisfaction as well as giving moviegoers a key reason to arrive earlier at the theatre—which is obviously good for advertisers and exhibitors alike.

From a cinema-advertising perspective, Noovie digital products are designed to be complementary to NCM’s core onscreen and lobby elements in order to create new integrated marketing capabilities, digital inventory and first-party data that the organization believes will be key to future ad revenue growth for its exhibitor partners.

“Entertaining content is also a core element of Noovie,” Marks says, “and we’d like to present more great content like our ‘Noovie Backlot’ segments, which have featured exclusive behind-the-scenes looks at upcoming films including Avengers: Infinity WarSolo: A Star Wars Story and The Incredibles 2, to also encourage audiences to get to the theatre early and see things they can’t find anywhere else.”

Looking ahead, NCM plans to continue remaining on the cutting edge of the pre-show experience. Gaming is apparently just the beginning of that inititative. Says Marks, “We’re using the pre-show as the trailer for the digital experience, driving audiences from our Noovie pre-show to our Noovie digital properties and back again to engage audiences at every step in their movie journey.”

The company’s vision is to clearly be the connector between brands and movie audiences—creating great experiences for theatre patrons and fans, and therefore great opportunities for advertisers looking to reach them.


TimePlay is deployed nationally across Canada at Cineplex theatres and in the U.S. at Emagine Entertainment and Frank Theatres locations. TimePlay runs in the pre-show before the movie starts.

According to Cineplex’s Sarah Van Lange, the company’s communications and public relations strategist, “TimePlay enables our guests to use their phones to interact with content on the big screen before a movie begins. They can play games and participate in other onscreen challenges for the opportunity to win prizes, including concession items and SCENE points.

“From a Cineplex Media perspective, TimePlay is a proven asset to marketers and advertisers that provides them the opportunity to sponsor a game or develop a custom interactive experience to reach and engage with their target audience. It’s available on 729 screens in 56 Cineplex theatres in markets across Canada.

“From a guest experience perspective, at Cineplex we are always on the lookout for new and innovative ways to entertain our guests and that includes options for our guests before their movie begins. TimePlay allows guests to interact with one another, our brand and other brands, which ultimately delivers a more immersive and engaging experience at our theatres.”

The free-to-install TimePlay app connects user mobile devices to a server that broadcasts player inputs on a second screen in real time and provides immediate individual feedback. The server records player performance and sends prizes directly to the mobile device’s Mystuff folder within the app.

The introduction of interactive cinema pulls patrons in to participate and drives earlier and more frequent visits. As Van Lange acknowledges, TimePlay’s platform provides real two-way engagement with the entire audience.

In addition, users can receive information, rewards or offers sent directly to their devices based on demographics, movie title or how they interacted with the content. TimePlay also provides exhibitors with valuable analytics and data about consumer behavior while they are inside the auditorium.

“We have also worked with a multitude of brands to create interactive ads, which deliver significantly higher engagement than linear ads,” says Aaron Silverberg, TimePlay’s VP of marketing.

The company recently launched event-based gaming through a tournament program at Emagine and Cineplex, consisting of a four-minute casual gaming experience where participants can compete to go to a final event and ultimately win cash prizes. “This capitalizes on the growth trend of gaming and eSports, but with TimePlay everyone in the theatre can participate and compete,” Silverberg observes.

“The feedback we’ve received from our tournament program is that there is a big opportunity for event-based gaming at the cinema, and we will broaden our offering in that area,” he promises.

“We have built a cult following in the markets where we are running. We are delivering significant value to consumers, brands and exhibitors,” Silverberg notes. “The world has gone interactive and we believe we’ve only just begun to scratch the surface of the overall cinema opportunity.”

The company plans to continue increasing its pre-show footprint, collaborating with studios and brands to deliver lots of additional memorable and immersive content for moviegoers.