Before the movie, a television moment

Aug 6, 2001  •  Post A Comment

Now showing at your local multiplex … a commercial for a new TV show!
You may be forgiven for thinking that the big-screen, big-sound “trailer” about the freshman college student’s amusing misadventures is for yet another summer teen flick, or that the one about the animated swashbucklers is for the latest big-screen Japanese anime, but they’re not. They’re not even “trailers,” per se.
They’re promos for Fox’s upcoming “Undeclared” and the Cartoon Network’s “Toonami” cartoon block.
The 60-second “Undeclared” spot, running through mid-August, is on some 3,700 screens in the top 25 markets.
Cartoon Network’s promo for its “Toonami” afternoon action block is playing in theaters showing the digitally animated “Final Fantasy” feature.
“You’re thinking it’s a movie trailer, and then you find out it’s for a TV show,” one moviegoer said of the experience of seeing a 60-second “Undeclared” promo in a darkened movie theater. “It definitely associates the two mediums together … so you’re thinking `movie-quality TV show.”’
Once upon a time, movies and television were the bitterest of sibling rivals, and studios-fearing the power of television to entice their audience to stay home-even kept their stars off talk shows in TV’s early days. But now, in the era of vertical integration, that rivalry is all but gone.
Of course, these days ads for upcoming theatrical features are one of the most lucrative TV advertising categories, and Thursday’s Must-See TV is chockablock with coming theatrical attractions.
Movies have returned the favor, welcoming broadcast ads. At National Cinema Network, a subsidiary of AMC Entertainment, which also owns a 2,800-screen theater chain, so-called “rolling stock” commercials for television shows are one of the top three advertising categories, along with ads for automobiles and spots promoting the armed forces.
Broadcast- and cable-network ads are in third place at Screenvision, another big player in the in-theater advertising business. Screenvision is part of Carlton Communications’ Technicolor division.
TV show commercials make up approximately 20 percent of NCN’s advertising business, said Chuck Battey, the company’s president.
TV ads account for approximately 13 percent of Screenvision’s rolling-stock ad sales, behind consumer product ads (43 percent) and national automobile ads (20 percent), said Melinda Klayber, Screenvision’s director of marketing.
The entire TV category is just under 3 years old at NCN. The company’s very first TV ad-for CBS’s “Martial Law”-ran in fall 1998, Mr. Battey said.
Worldwide cinema advertising is an estimated $1 billion-a-year business, he said.
In North America, aggregate yearly revenues from cash advertising sales total around $200 million, Mr. Battey said, indicating that Discovery, Fox, the various Turner cable networks and UPN are his company’s biggest TV advertisers.
Placing “flights” of TV commercials in movie theaters is a “pretty integral part of what we do,” said Dennis Adamovich, Cartoon Network’s vice president for consumer marketing, who advertises on NCN and Screenvision. For the two-hour afternoon “Toonami” block of Japanese action-adventure animation (which includes “Sailor Moon,” “Dragon Ball Z,” “Gundam Wing,” “Tenchi Muyo!,” “Outlaw Star” and “Ronin Warriors”), the target audience is boys 9 to 14.
“The technogeek boys that are out there love those type of shows,” Mr. Adamovich said. “Final Fantasy,” the big-screen film that eschewed actors in favor of an all-digital animated cast, was the “place to be in front of this audience and reach them in vary targeted way,” he said. “So we put our `Toonami’ trailer in front of `Final Fantasy.”’
The “Toonami” ad itself is “built” for the movie theater, Mr. Adamovich added. “It’s not something we just convert over.”
Though NCN is owned by AMC, it represents more than 30 other circuits as well, Mr. Battey said, for a total of more than 11,500 screens. Screenvision is on 16,000 screens and in four of the top five circuits, Ms. Klayber said.
NCN and Screenvision provide both “rolling stock” ads (i.e., video, usually in the Beta format, transferred to film) and advertising slides. A minimum rolling-stock buy is for a four-week flight, Mr. Battey said. Those advertising slides, up for an average of eight seconds each, alternate on screen with quizzes and trivia tidbits before and during the approximately three-minute-long preshow musical “countdown” that precedes the actual previews of coming attractions, he added. Both Screenvision and NCN also offer advertising opportunities on popcorn boxes and on in-theater signage as well as on such giveaways as buttons and other trinkets.
“The recall rate is just phenomenal in a theater vs. television,” said Mr. Adamovich of Cartoon Network. “The kids … can’t change the channel. They’re a captive audience; they’re in a dark auditorium, so you can really impact them in a big way.”
While NCN sells its slides inventory on a per-screen, per-week basis, Mr. Battey said, the rolling-stock ads sell on a cost-per-thousand basis very similar to the system employed by the TV networks, stations and advertisers.
CPMs are based on a film’s projected attendance, and if an expected blockbuster fails to live up to box-office expectations, NCN offers make-goods. If it does better than expectations, clients “enjoy the upside, and we protect them from the downside,” Mr. Battey said, echoing the familiar TV ad-sales mantra.