Category Archives: Cinema Advertising

Audience Entertainment Is Helping Moviegoers Become A Part of the Story

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Now that the worldwide digital cinema rollout is nearing completion, with most of North America and a majority of Europe and Asia converted, companies, business models and content will begin to emerge that exploit the capabilities and benefits of the new technology.

One such entity you can expect to be hearing about at this year’s CinemaCon and in the months that follow is Audience Entertainment. The company creates branded entertainment which large groups can interact with in unison. To date, Audience Entertainment has worked mostly on interactive games for ad campaigns that are played in movie theatres, concerts and special events. Barry Grieff is the CEO of the company, which he founded in 2009.

If Grieff’s name sounds familiar there may be good reason. During a decades long career in the entertainment industry, Grief has held a number of positions in a all areas of the business. He started out as the National Advertising Director for National Lampoon and went on to work as a senior executive in music for A&M Records and as a Vice President of Marketing at ABC Records. He’s even been the President of Lorne Michaels’ production company Broadway Video. Back in 1984 he produced “Treasure: In Search of the Golden Horse” which was the first interactive laser disc for Pioneer as a showcase for the new digital medium.

“Treasure” was actually an interactive game that sent viewers out in search of a golden horse worth USD $500,000 that had been buried somewhere out in the world. It very well might be one of the earliest examples of transmedia, since it was released on multiple platforms including theatrically, on television, and on laser disc.

As Grief explained during an in-depth conversation a week before CinemaCon, it was this early experience with interactive content that ultimately led to Audience Entertainment. After several years of trials, tests and one-off productions, the company is ready to launch in earnest. To help the company grow its platform in cinemas around the world, Audience Entertainment recently announced a deal with Barco, the digital cinema projector manufacturer. The strategic partnership is part of the latter company’s new CinemaBarco suite of product offerings.

Celluloid Junkie: Maybe it’s best to start at the very beginning of your career since you’ve had several different focuses throughout your professional history. Is your varied experience an asset when it comes to Audience Entertainment?

Barry Grieff: Absolutely. Unlike someone that’s been in a distribution system their entire career, it’s more difficult for them to see the benefits and the pitfalls of that. I’m more agnostic about that. I look at things and say, “There are all these distribution channels, why limit yourself to just this one.” So, I think my lack of holding a job is a good thing.

CJ: Did the concept for Audience Entertainment originally come from your work with Pioneer in the 1980s? That kind of interactive entertainment was a little ahead of its time, so what was it that stuck with you for more than 20 years to want to expand on the idea?

BG: What I saw with “Treasure” was that this game was used by schools, by teachers, it taught geography, it taught logic, it taught math, because the puzzles were all interesting. I saw involvement at a level I had never seen in previously passive kinds of media and I was intrigued by it. But there was no real future because nothing was digital yet. I kind of held onto that idea hoping that someday this would be possible. Then a couple years before I started Audience Entertainment, I was heading a company called the Brand Experience Lab. We had technologies from different universities and folks around the world that they were looking to showcase to marketers. We had a 3D printer, we had holograms, we had virtual reality, but nobody knew what to do with it. What I saw was incredible interest from everybody. During that period we ran into a technology, which is motion capture, which is what we’re using now. One of the clients that came into the lab saw it and said, “Hey that’s really interesting could you do that in the movie theatre?” And it hadn’t occurred to us prior to that so I said, “I don’t see why not”.

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Ireland’s Cinema Advertiser Shows the Way With Re-Branding and Focus on Youth

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Ireland’s cinema advertiser Carlton Screen Advertising is rebranding as Wide Eye Media. More importantly, the company is determined to focus strongly on the youth segment of cinema goers, highlighting the need and challenge for cinemas and advertisers in most exhibition markets in the developed world.

Although the old Carlton Screen Advertising (CSA) website is still running (pictured below), the new Wide Eyed Media (WEM) one (above) looks much better and gives an indication of the changes to come.

WEM represents 653 screens across 94 sites in both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland and claims a reach of two million eyeballs per month (pairs, we assume). The company kept the CSA name long after the former UK parent company re-branded as Digital Cinema Media (DCM) – five years to be precise, as CSA (UK) became DCM on 1 January 2009. While DCM was acquired by UK multiplex operators Odeon and Cineworld (Vue joined later), CSA (Ireland) was bought by Irish commercial radio media mogul Dermot Hanrahan in May 2009. The company has thus continued to function under the moniker of a former parent company that doesn’t exist any more.

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This is now set to change as, with WEM having completed a  €2 million investment in digitisation of its end-to-end advertising system with Unique Digital, including recently upgrading their Advertising Accord™ software. WEM is thus now fully equipped to take full advantage of the possibilities of the digital screen advertising medium.

The company is marshalling major resources, including a €800,000 campaign based around the theme, “Wide Eye Media – Coming to your Senses. See it. Hear it. Feel it” There will also be a new ‘sting’ (ident trailer) playing in cinemas. You can see it for yourself below and although the YouTube compression is terrible, it will no doubt look and sound very impressive in cinemas.

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But the most interesting aspect of the exercise is ‘under the hood’ in terms of what WEM is trying to achieve in its new guise. As WEM rightly points out, Ireland has the highest cinema admissions per capita in the EU, something that is a good foundation to build on for cinema advertising.

It is worth going through WEM’s very elegantly laid out and eloquently summarised presentation (‘Why not Cinema’?) on their website, which should be a model for bigger and better resourced cinema advertisers (we are looking at you NCM and DCM). It builds a brief but compelling case for cinema advertising, which always has to punch above its weight, given that it accounts for just one to two per cent of total advertising spend in any given territory.

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Cinema Advertising Shows No Sign of Ageing at Cannes Lions

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Cinema advertising celebrated its 60th year at the Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity by positioning itself as the “magical, mysterious and creative media platform” of choice. The well attended seminar on Monday the 17th of June at the Cannes Palaise showcased examples of some of the most innovative technical and creative uses of the cinema advertising medium from countries all across the globe. There was mobile phone interaction, there were two-at-once film shows, stereoscopic 3D, innovation in audio and even tap dancing. The creatives leaving the event professed themselves inspired by the possibilities of cinema, which is an achievement given the dazzling array of technical platforms on show at the Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity, which rivals the Cannes Film Festival held in the same venue a month earlier in terms of the talent that it attracts.

The event began with an acknowledgement of the power of cinema by showing the last 15 minutes of the acclaimed film “The Artist” that had screened in Cannes a year earlier and went on to win a clutch of awards, including the Oscar for Best Picture. Cinema may have added colour, sound and wide-screen since those early days of silent movies, but SAWA (the Screen Advertising World Association) pulled out all stops to show that there was plenty more innovation left in the medium. After the introduction by the host (yours truly), a montage sequence put together by UK’s DCM showed clips from this summer’s blockbusters, mixed with some of the best adverts screened in cinemas, accompanied by what has become SAWA’s unofficial theme, Benny Benassi ft. Gary Go’s “Cinema (Skrillex Remix)“.

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Michael Hilliard from Australia’s Finch was up first to screen the Yellowglen commercial “Welcome to the House of Sparkling” that had run in Australian cinemas and tied-in with a big on-line campaign. Advertising a sparkling wine on television would be wasted on the beer-drinking masses, hence why cinema was the obvious medium for a more selective target group. The advert featured Fabien Ruiz, the choreographer who taught the two stars of “The Artist” how to dance, tap his way around a dark room, all the way up to the ceiling and down, with sparks flying off his feet. And as if appearing in the ad wasn’t impressive enough, there was a collective “whoosh” in-take of breath in the audience when Michael then announced that next up to stage would be Fabian Ruiz himself, who came on and performed a stunning tap dance sequence.

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Travis Reid Departs DCIP To Head Up Screenvision

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Travis Reid

Last Thursday Digital Cinema Implementation Partners (DCIP) announced that Travis Reid, their CEO, had resigned. That same day on-screen advertising giant Screenvision announced that Shamrock Capital Advisors, a private equity fund founded by the late Roy Disney, had finalized the $160 million purchase of the company and had appointed Reid as its new CEO.

At ShowEast, which was just wrapping up at the time, many industry folks I spoke with were surprised to hear the news, though looking at it objectively, the move is somewhat inevitable.

Reid has had a long career in motion picture exhibition that includes his stint as the President and CEO of Loews Cineplex for which he worked from 1991 until 2005 when the chain was acquired by AMC Entertainment. In 2007 he joined DCIP, the deployment entity formed and owned by North America’s largest exhibitors; AMC, Regal Entertainment and Cinemark. Reid has also sat on the boards of Cineplex Galaxy, Yelmo and Fandango among others. As Shamrock’s Managing Director Steve Royer said in Screenvision’s press release:

“Travis has an over thirty-year history in the exhibition space having operated chains and most recently, pioneering the digital revolution for the cinema exhibition industry. He was our ideal candidate.”

Reid led DCIP through a challenging period in its formation and development. Not only did he successfully oversee the companies protracted negotiations with major studios for virtual print fees (VPFs), but just as it seemed digital cinema was taking off, the financial meltdown caused funding for rollouts to dry up for more than a year. Reid and DCIP persevered and in March of this year he secured $660 million in funding from a consortium of banks.

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Screenvision and National CineMedia In Merger Talks

Screenvision LogoLess than a week after denying bankruptcy rumors that caused the stock price of French conglomerate Thomson SA to plummet 15%, the company has moved aggressively to sell off its cinema advertising unit Screenvision.  Industry chatter that the Thomson subsidiary has entered talks to merge with its chief competitor, National CineMedia (NCM), may turn out to be more than just rumor and speculation.  That is if you believe USA Today, which published a story about the potential merger on Monday.

A merger between Screenvision and NCM seems unimaginable, if not impossible, given the two firms majority share of the North American cinema advertising business.  Surely there will be some regulatory group that will object to having only one company control most of the profitable advertising placement in the country’s leading movie theatres.  This issue didn’t escape USA Today either who quoted Lazard Capital Markets Analyst Barton Crockett as saying:

“I’m not sure that (a combination) is possible from an antitrust perspective.  It would affect some advertisers, studios and independent theater chains that like to play those two (companies) against each other.”

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Cinemas – Ignore Baby Boomers At your Own Peril

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This very good article from the New York Times does not dicsuss cinema or cinema advertising explicitly. But the implications are writ large for the two about the growing importance of the aging US (and European) population in terms of impact it will have on spending habits.

For decades, older consumers were largely shunned by marketers because they were deemed less wealthy, less likely to try new products and less willing to change brands. Campaigns directed at them were described dismissively as made for the “Geritol generation.” As much as older consumers were to be shunned, young consumers — ages 18 to 34, or 18 to 49 — were desired for what were deemed their free-spending ways, eagerness to sample new products and brand-switching proclivities. The idea that they were starting in life with a proverbial blank slate of marketing wants and needs was catnip to product peddlers.

Those attitudes have been changing, for a couple of reasons. One is the recession, which makes older consumers who may have paid off mortgages seem a safer bet than younger ones who may get laid off in last-hired, first-fired downsizings.

The hard numbers bear out this thinking.

Although “18 to 49 is going to remain the predominant buying demographic,” Mr. Donchin said, “this country is aging, and the boomers are an attractive demographic.”

That appeal is because of the size of the boomer market and because, as Mr. Donchin put it, “50 isn’t what it used to be.”

Older consumers today “are not as resistant to change” as older consumers previously may have been, Mr. Donchin said, summarizing their attitude as “Show me something better, and I’ll try it.”

And the boomers are even “comfortable with digital media,” he added.

Hollywood studios are slowly waking up to this as well, with films like “The Queen” having significantly higher investment return ratios than even big hits like “The Dark Knight”.

But cinemas are only slowly embracing this fact. UK exhibitor Vue spoke on a panel at ShoWest about how it has introduced screenings aimed at an older clientele where they don’t have to sit next to youngsters chatting on mobile phones. Vue may soon want to consider targeting 45-65s with wine and cheese in the evening, rather than just the 65+ tea-and-biscuit crowd.

Aussies Want UK Cinema Advertiser

CSAUK/Irish cinema screen advertiser Carlton Screen Advertising (CSA) is officially in the chopping block with the most likely buyer being Pacific Equity Partners, which bought the exhibitor Australian cinema chain Hoyts last year. Having once been the biggest and most profitable screen advertiser in the world, CSA’s decline has been as steep and fast as it has been sad. Despite the OK-ish box office year 2007, CSA (2,900 screens in 500 sites) was not able to capitalize on the small growth as it was saddled with large up-front payments to some of the UK’s largest circuits. With one of these, Cineworld, being publicly quoted, CSA’s move to switch from 6-month up-front payment to month-by-month forced it to flag this to the stock market. This in turn forced CSA’s parent ITV to announce that the screen advertiser was indeed for sale – at a rock bottom price. As Sunday Times notes:

Once worth £80m, analysts now value CSA at nothing, despite healthy cinema attendances. ITV may even have to pay someone to take it off its hands.

The business is estimated to be liable for another £200m in upfront payments to customers, chiefly Odeon and Cineworld, to satisfy onerous advertising contracts that stretch to 2012.

Those agreements mean CSA has struggled to make money despite total cinema advertising income growing 10% to £170m last year, according to Nielsen figures.

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Warner Bros. Goes With Kodak Pre-show In Italy

Kodak Digital CinemaKodak Digital Cinema is notching a win in its belt after Warner Bros. International Cinemas selected them to run digital pre-show in their theatres throughout Italy. Kodak will install pre-show systems on 172 in 17 venues throughout the country starting in late January.

Over the past several years, Kodak Digital Cinema has faced stiff competition in the North American pre-show market from the likes of National Cinemedia and Screenvision. So much so that few may remember that Kodak is still in the pre-show business. Even Kodak seems to understand they might need to show exhibitors the worthiness of their advertising solution, as Enrico Ferrari, Kodak Digital Cinema manager for Italy was quoted as saying:

Warner’s staff set high standards for system performance and did extensive research into the pre-show solutions available. It will be our goal – in everything we do – to prove they made the right decision.”

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