Gaining momentum: CAC pitches big screens as perfect date for advertisers


It’s an Ad Ad Ad Ad World, as anyone in or using media knows. Beyond print and radio, ad spends are also going to all kinds of screens—traditional (TV and cable), digital (computers, mobile, online, digitally empowered outdoor spaces) and now movie screens are attracting more and more dollars.

The big news isn’t that advertisers are taking their dollars to the movies but that in-cinema’s commitments from agencies and brands are growing and growing. At the recent CinemaCon, the Cinema Advertising Council (CAC) reported a record high $677,957,000 in revenues for 2013 from advertising spends in their theatres and on their screens. The Council, which began measuring these revenues in 2002 and whose members deliver ad-supported, entertainment-oriented preshows across their networks to cinemas, comprises Screenvision and NCM Media Networks plus the more art house-focused Spotlight. CAC’s figure marked a 6.5% rise over the previous year and the fourth consecutive year that ad dollars committed to CAC screens topped the $600,000 mark.

Asked to make a guesstimate of when CAC might achieve that magical billion-dollar bull’s-eye for a year’s ad spends on theatre screens (hardly science fiction considering the growing upward trend), Katy Loria, CAC president and chairman and Screenvision senior VP of national ad sales, and John McCauley, CAC marketing chair and Screenvision senior VP of marketing, hit the pause button before McCauley ruminated that “there’s been continued growth, the momentum is terrific, and revenue is up again” and then together ventured that the billion mark could be achieved in four or five years.

Loria, who succeeded NCM’s Cliff Marks atop CAC, explains the growth as the “result of more new brands moving into cinema, the unique power of the movie theatre as a venue for creative, engaging advertising, and a movement by agencies to a more video-agnostic [video-neutral] approach that puts cinema alongside TV and online platforms.”

A big jolt came for these revenues as a result of NCM and Screenvision’s participation at last year’s Upfronts, a kind of annual massive mating season that traditionally has television wooing ad agencies and brands. These days, that ad-supported ecosystem has become much more complicated: The media sellers are across all screens (more on that below) and advertisers have a multitude of ways to get visibility for their brands.

As CAC revenues expand, so do the categories and brands the media advertisers bring to theatre screens. There’s technology, of course, along with automotive, TV/media shows and CPG (consumer packaged goods). “Travel and leisure, among others, became strong in 2013, and agencies and brands are taking notice.” Additionally, the leading 2013 growth categories were automotive, computer software, consumer electronics, retail/apparel,and television.

But one of the latest trends has not just new brands but new kinds of brands (apps, mobile products, etc.) going into the cinema space. Predicts McCauley, “There will be a continuing convergence of social and mobile technology as we go to companies like Samsung and make our case for knowing how to connect to the latest technologies.”

For 2014, CAC is focusing on brands targeting Millennials—that oft-described elusive demographic of 18 to 34-year-olds that advertisers covet but who are a continuing challenge to reach because of media fragmentation and options across screens of all sizes and attention spans often measured in seconds.

While CAC members most strongly covet national buys (the bigger brands mean more money and longer commitments), agencies and marketers have options to do their ad buys locally, regionally or nationally. National (including regional) continues to attract the vast majority of cinema advertising, with Loria putting the ratio at about 80% for national (including regional, a “smaller bucket”) vs. about 20% for local. Local buys, however, saw the most aggressive growth in 2013 over the previous year. (Off-screen revenues like in-lobby promotions account for a smaller piece of the total in-theatre revenue pie.) Both Screenvision and NCM each have separate national and local sales teams (Screenvision’s national team comprises about 25 people; about 130 shop for local ads).

In its mission to convince media advertisers of the value and efficiency big screens offer, CAC is meeting head-on a perception that threatens to pull them off in-cinema’s Yellow Brick Road to a billion and more. An entertainment and media financing executive, speaking on a panel at McGraw-Hill’s recent New York Media Summit trade conference, commented, “You can’t convince an advertiser that theatres are a good place to put their ads…and nothing can make ad dollars increase in theatres.”

It’s no surprise that Loria and McCauley flatly disagree but acknowledge that, per Loria, “we could better connect to our advertising partners and CAC is already doing that, as it’s an important reason why we exist. Our job is to further the perception of the valuable audience we have and we’re already doing this with our trade campaign, in addition to a PR outreach and the sharing of research.”

Accordingly, CAC also announced at CinemaCon its trade campaign “Movies Never Get Old,” directed to advertisers. CAC initially placed ads in leading advertising industry trade magazines and on websites and is giving the campaign a big push at this spring’s traditional big Upfront events, which again bring media advertisers and sellers together for big showdowns.

With so many new players in the ad game, this year’s Upfront season, which just began, is “swelling,” as a recent New York Times report described it. Not quite as fast as speed-dating but packing as much enthusiasm and hope, this year’s rituals have cinema advertisers upping their game to catch those ad dollars.

Advertisers for many decades have understood how broadcast/cable dovetail with their goals. Now the theatres are making their case and using the TV model to achieve this.

CAC’s major message to advertisers has everything to do with the value of its moviegoing audiences, especially those beloved Millennials. So CAC’s pitch underscores the youthful median age of moviegoers (30.5) and that moviegoing is the number-one leisure activity for Millennials. The 18 to 34-year-olds appreciate the unique freshness of movie releases compared to the many familiar shows, series and web destinations that get their divided attention. (An important point the in-cinema people make is that cinema is “unskippable.”)
Reminds McCauley, “Cinema really delivers to the 18-to-49 buying demo but each week offers something for everyone.”

There’s plenty of data swirling around those living online, but it’s also now much easier to identify who’s going to theatres and when and what these audiences are watching and want to watch.

But the less fragmented movie audience isn’t the only advantage in-cinema people are leveraging. There’s also a strong perception, suggested by statistics, that broadcast TV viewing on weekends is declining—a trend, says Loria, “that makes the in-theatre space more attractive [for advertisers] because this is where so many Millennials are on Fridays and Saturdays.” Those eyeballs that used to confront TV screens on weekends are at the theatres.

There’s no big screen-vs.-small-screen battle being waged by in-cinema advertising. Rather, the word “complement” is key, as CAC’s strategy is to emulate the TV model and position its theatres as the perfect complement to TV, that notoriously “skippable” medium that can also disappear into the DVR ether.

The prime example of this embrace of the TV model was in-cinema’s pioneering foray last year into the longtime-held TV stronghold of the Upfronts, where the CAC members inaugurated their pitch by highlighting research that demonstrated cinema’s powerful position as the perfect complement to any TV ad buy. They evangelized that when TV viewing at home is low—such as on weekends or in the summer—cinema viewing is up, thus making theatres the ultimate partner to the TV buy. Mazda was just one of many brands that bit. Its in-theatre campaign for the 2014 models amounted to about two minutes of custom content, including a hip spin on the Kinks’ classic “All Day and All of the Night.”

CAC made another significant move to complement TV and position its screens close to the TV model by enlisting TV measurement giant Nielsen as integral to its mission.  Screenvision recently became the only cinema advertising company posting their audience delivery utilizing Nielsen’s Cinema Audience Measurement (CAM). This new approach allows the company, Loria explains, to provide agencies and brands with audience demo guarantees relating to those viewers they most want to reach. Loria says that the Nielsen arrangement “closes the gap between the value of the small screen versus the big screen to advertisers…and is helping us so much because more and more we join the common vernacular,” meaning the “TV speak” advertisers use to define their reach and describe consumers and their viewing and buying habits.

As further enticement to advertisers (but also a hoped-for enhancement to the big-screen cause), Nielsen is improving CAM by transitioning to online moviegoer demographic surveys that will deliver even larger samples sizes, more specific demographic data and faster data delivery.

At least theatres have had better luck weathering the technological changes that have impacted other screens. There may be some rattling in the future from Digital Cinema Distribution Coalition delivery advances, 4K and laser rollouts, new in-theatre sound-immersion technologies, etc., but, says McCauley, “in-cinema advertising is adaptable. These kinds of developments don’t affect our strategies, as we can just roll with the punches.” Another punch the in-theatre advertisers rolled with is 3D. Loria doesn’t see 3D as dead but as “declining and not as big a trend as in the past.”

As technologies evolve, Loria actually sees the changes they bring as an advantage in the in-cinema advertising arena. “They’re having a positive effect on us because there’s now a more video-agnostic marketplace for advertisers, which opens up the playing field for us.” In other words, advertisers now take greater risks losing eyeballs if they favor certain screens over others.

One of CAC’s latest strategies to entice big brands has been to do some homegrown rebranding of their preshows. NCM now has “FirstLook” and Screenvision just announced at CinemaCon its “Front & Center” preshows. With new format and design, the approximate 20-minute packages provide advertisers with various options (time, money, format) to get involved. Content might include behind-the-scenes looks at upcoming film and TV shows, world-premiere music-videos, the latest in entertainment and technology, and branded entertainment pieces funded by advertisers where brands usually sit in the background.

In a new trend, the preshows are showing off in other exciting ways with want-to-see, innovative content. NCM recently premiered a package of the always strongly anticipated Super Bowl ads; Screenvision offered an original production featuring the best of Consumer Electronics Show 2014 gadgets and products.

CAC is further positioning the in-theatre screen environment as an “event” of its own, as advertising around event TV has been described as a “veritable orgy.” And shows like the Golden Globes or Oscars or Super Bowl readily attest to this. Explains Loria, who cites the strong lineup of Hollywood releases and hit franchises always on the horizon, “We of course believe that every weekend at the movies is a big event.” Statistics add support: 2013 was the highest-grossing box-office year in U.S. history, at $10.9 billion and with 34.7 percent of moviegoers being those coveted Millennials. And box office has averaged more than $10 billion and 1.35 billion attendees over the past five years.

In-cinema advertising people call the newly established Upfronts just a “first step.” NCM characterized its bow—the NCM Cinema Upfront experience—as “enormously successful.” Screenvision’s first Upfront was at New York’s fabled Ziegfeld Theatre (where it returned on April 2).

About Screenvision’s inaugural Upfront, Loria says, “We presented the notion that we’re similar to a TV broadcaster and gave [advertisers] incentives to make annual commitments just as they do with the networks.” The message got across: “We won dozens of new commitments from agencies and brands.”

Says McCauley, “Our message is: We’re a great place to be on weekends. We’re letting the media community know and educating the agency people and their clients and reminding that weekend erosion on TV means big attendance in that Friday and Saturday time frame in theatres. We had 1.34 billion movie attendees last year.”

With TV’s longtime monopoly of audiences gone, buying advertising and selling brands has become a whole lot knottier. In fact, as both the numbers of buyers and sellers have increased, challenges and confusion have grown on both sides.

In-cinema’s advantage amidst so much media chaos is easier to understand even as its appeal goes broader. McCauley states, “In-theatre works for advertisers because, from an ad delivery standpoint, we can reach all people. We have the best targeting. We attract scale with the big films and we’re resilient to the big fragmentation of TV. With our better targeting, advertisers can better get to know those they want to.”

And theatres also have that all-important data on their side. While CAC members can’t brag to advertisers that they use algorithms or IP data to zero in on breakdown categories like seasons, regions, audience demographics for specific kinds of films, or major events impacting theatregoing, they are definitely able to do such targeting, says Loria.

CAC, she continues, can make a strong case to advertisers because, compared to TV and digital, “we believe that in-theatre has the best targeting potential and best engagement, likeability and ad recall.”

This year, Screenvision took its place “upfront” by launching its Upfront presentations early, with events in Los Angeles, Detroit and Chicago on April 3 a day following Screenvision’s Ziegfeld splash. NCM Media Networks does its Upfront in New York on May 14.

At the Ziegfeld, Screenvision delivered on its promise of “the shortest Upfront presentation you can't skip!” Execs delivered a few brief choice words, including some new digitally related content partnership announcements, after which followed a compelling video sales presentation of why movie advertising with Screenvision matters and—Feature Attraction—a screening of Marvel's Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Via video, star Chris Evans introduced the film on behalf of Screenvision.

Commenting on their Captain America coup, McCauley says, “The best way to show the power of cinema is to give them [advertisers] the cinema experience. Here it is: the short and simple value proposition of cinema.”

Like a good commercial on steroids, Screenvision’s short big-screen video pitch to advertisers in the audience put across its snappy message in a clear, succinct, convincing and entertaining way. If some mature minds wandered during the pummeling superhero blockbuster-in-waiting film that followed, the promo demanded attention.

With eye-pleasing graphics and an ear-pleasing narrator, the messages to the ad community were, among many, that big screens should be a major part of media plans and, in TV-ad speak, be likened to a “weekend day part.” There were again reminders that theatres are unskippable environments with scale and reach. Theatres are also dominated by 40-foot high screens that show “the best content in the world” to audiences who pay attention, can’t pause or disconnect. These audiences also have increased awareness, likeability and recall (“stickiness”) for onscreen ads.

Last year, Loria’s CAC predecessor Cliff Marks told FJI, “I think cinema advertising as a whole needs to figure out how we can diversify and give brands a way to use the cinema medium that goes beyond simply running 30-second commercials. And I don’t think that any of us—as exhibitors, cinema marketers—have spent a lot of time thinking about that,”
Clearly, results over the year show that much more thinking has been done. And, says McCauley, optimism will grow because “exhibition is a very solid business and always a lot of momentum follows CinemaCon.”

Challenges remain. “One of the biggest,” says Loria, “is for us to continue to tell the story of how cinema fits into the video-agnostic conversation. It’s a positive conversation but we need to do more. We don’t want to be a carved-out piece of ad business; we want to be part of the original conversation.”

The truth remains that people continue to be mad mad mad about going to the movies and nothing sells like the truth, even to an all-powerful, deep-pocketed ad community that loves hyperbole.