An era has ended for movie buffs.
This month, American Movie Classics started inserting a two-minute commercial break in the middle of its feature films.
That means that the breaks, which the network prefers to call “intermissions,” now interrupt both classic fare, such as John Ford’s “The Searchers” and James Whale’s “Frankenstein,” and short subjects.
The latest move comes after a three-year-long period during which the network accepted national commercials that bookended feature films, in the manner of some European television networks and American public broadcasting, and routinely inserted commercials into the channel’s original programming.
This latest commercial move, like AMC’s previous practice, targets national advertisers only, making no provision for local insertion by cable operators.
The intermissions take this form: a 20-second bumper, usually a trivia question or some piece of lore, followed by a one-minute commercial, followed by a one-minute promo, followed by another one-minute commercial, followed by a final 10-second bump, during which the trivia question is answered. The rest of the movie is then shown. National advertisers in the intermissions have included AT&T, Celebrity Cruises, De Beers, L’Oreal, Nexium, Sun America and Toyota.
AMC’s latest commercial move may annoy some viewers and hearten the competition, but it makes sense to some advertisers. “The advantage of sponsoring films on this network is still in that it’s a relatively low-clutter environment,” said Bob Flood, senior VP, Optimedia International. New York Life, an Optimedia client, has advertised on AMC but so far only in the pre-intermission, bookending days.
AMC is attractive to some advertisers, Mr. Flood said, because it has strong distribution with an “upscale, slightly older audience” of classic film aficionados. “Anything [AMC] can place against the bottom line is going to further support their acquisition of films and originals.”
AMC was the 27th-ranked cable network in prime time, with a 0.5 household rating and a 0.8 share, in the first week of October, according to Nielsen data. AMC reaches 75 million subscribers, according to data from the National Cable & Telecommunications Association. But its product has often suffered by comparison with the 3,300-title library of its chief competitor, Turner Classic Movies, which is in 45 million homes, according to NCTA figures.
TCM has no plans to add commercials to its movies, said Tom Karsch, executive VP and general manager, Turner Classic Movies. “The mantra here is present movies the way they were meant to be seen,” Mr. Karsch said, “no editing, no colorization, no commercials.”
He called AMC’s venture into commercial breaks during movies a “great opportunity” for Turner Classics. “It’s a rare occasion where the Hertz of the category leaves the category to Avis,” he said. AMC is generally available on a basic or extended basic service tier. Some MSOs have TCM available only on a digital tier.
Since the intermission insertions have begun, AMC has received close to 1,000 complaints, whether phone calls or e-mails, from viewers, according to an AMC executive. However, complaints have not been directed to the multple system operators themselves. Charter Communications, for example, has received “no feedback or complaints from customers,” according to a spokesman, who called the AMC move to commercials “not an issue” for Charter. That was typical as well of the reaction at Time Warner Cable, Comcast Corp. and Cablevision Systems Corp., whose Rainbow Media subsidiary owns AMC.
One of the commercial ploy’s most vocal critics has been New York Post television columnist Adam Buckman, who recently wrote a column expressing outrage on the subject. Since the column, Mr. Buckman has received a “couple dozen” e-mailed expressions of support from readers, he said.
AMC’s move was negative and shortsighted, Mr. Buckman said. “A network ought to put its best foot forward, and AMC’s best foot would seem to be its claims to preserving and showcasing classic cinema. Thus, when you put a commercial in the middle of a classic movie like `The Searchers,’ which anyone who knows anything about movies would revere as one of the great Westerns made by John Ford, then you’re undermining your greatest strength. Why not move to shore up that greatest strength, rather than undermine it?”