Stations go to the movies to find an audience

Nov 4, 2002  •  Post A Comment

Now showing at your local multiplex … commercials for your local market TV station.
In the past year, local stations have been running commercials for their evening newscasts and new fall season network TV shows. Stations-especially affiliates of the younger-demo-oriented broadcast networks-have realized that movie theaters are a good place to target those elusive younger viewers, particularly teenage boys and young men, whom they would like to see staying with the local news after a night watching The WB, UPN or Fox.
And while the cost varies from market to market, a four-week commercial flight reaching movie goers in front of 150-plus screens in a top-tier TV market might cost under $100,000, according to one senior TV marketing executive.
National Cinema Network and Screenvision, two of the biggest organizations that sell on-screen advertising in movie theaters, have different views about the benefits of the burgeoning local broadcast category and different ways to approach it.
For both NCN and Screenvision, “broadcast” is one of the top three or four advertising categories. NCN is actively courting the local broadcasters, and while local isn’t yet as big a category as national broadcast and cable combined, “It’s beginning to approach that,” said Chuck Battey, the company’s president. In 2001, NCN’s local TV advertising was up about 35 percent over the previous year; so far this year, the category is up more than 500 percent over the same time frame in 2001, according to a company spokesman.
At Screenvision, local TV ads are seen primarily as a competitor to national spots in the category. At both NCN and Screenvision, avails in the top categories are tight, executives at the two companies agreed. Approximately 10 percent of Screen’s TV-related ads are bought by local stations, said Todd Siegel, senior VP, sales and marketing, Screenvision.
Mr. Siegel said Screenvision will continue to sell to local stations even though “that has an opportunity cost to me because then I can’t sell a national to anybody else, or the national I sell will be less New York.”
Therefore, unlike NCN’s local ads, Screenvision’s local broadcast spots are pre-emptible. “We have and will accept local in what are traditionally low-demand periods, when we wouldn’t otherwise sell that inventory,” Mr. Siegel said. “When we do sell local … we would sell those potentially pre-emptible, so that in the event that a national advertiser did come in, with notice, those local/regional accounts could potentially be pre-empted for a bigger-dollar-volume national account.”
NCN, on the other hand, requires its local broadcast advertisers to buy all of its screens in an entire market, rather than just a fraction of the available screens in that market. “In other words, you won’t see us allowing any advertiser, broadcast or otherwise, to select a subset of a market’s screens,” said NCN’s Mr. Battey.
Among the local broadcasters who have advertised recently in movie theaters are KTLA-TV in Los Angeles, KDAF-TV in Dallas, WJXT-TV in Jacksonville, Fla., and WDWB-TV in Detroit, according to the two companies.
KDAF, for example, a Tribune Broadcasting WB affiliate, began local four- and eight-week flights with NCN in November 2001 and has continued advertising on some 170 Dallas-Fort Worth movie screens into this fall, said Roger Vertrees, the creative services director at the station. The original flight last year was an image campaign for the entire station, including its news. This past May, KDAF did a co-op deal with The WB on a 60-second buy; the first 30 seconds touted “Smallville”; the second 30 seconds was all about the station’s weather coverage.
The current eight-week in-theater flight is a co-op with both the network, which is focusing on “Birds of Prey,” and Warner Bros. Domestic Syndication, which has “Will & Grace” on KDAF’s air this fall.
Even the network spots are tagged out locally, Mr. Vertrees said. The original custom spot in November 2001 was created digitally in-house at the station, then transferred up to 35 millimeter by NCN, which also made the dubs for all of its Dallas-Fort Worth screens.
Mr. Vertrees said his station does a lot of radio advertising and outdoor advertising, but no print and little local cable. “We are always looking for the newest, latest, greatest thing,” he said, and that’s why he thinks the future of TV ads on movie screens is bright-particularly in a few years, when digital movie theaters will make transfers and dubs unnecessary, thereby lowering the cost of creating local broadcast commercials. For now, though, he said, moviegoers are a “captive audience, with no remote control in their hands, in a pretty clutter-free environment.”
Last year, KDAF was the only station in the market to advertise in theaters, he added. This year, at least two local competitors have also signed up.