Moviegoers Chance to Interact
June 30, 2008
NEW YORK Cinema is
the oldest mass audio-visual medium. It is also as
passive as media consumption gets. The imaginative
application of -- you guessed it -- digital technology
by marketers may change this.
A deal struck earlier this month between Verizon
Wireless and cinema-advertising network Screenvision
combines mobile and social-networking applications to
test an interactive polling program in American movie
theaters. "In-cinema advertising gives us an opportunity
to create a dialogue with the audience who is there,
present and ready to be entertained," said Lou Rossi,
director of advertising and sponsorships at Verizon
According to the Cinema Advertising Council, the sector
is one of the fastest growing in paid media. Overall,
cinema ad revenues saw a double-digit increase last
year, jumping nearly 19 percent. Reported revenue, as
tabulated by law firm Miller, Kaplan, Arase & Co., was
$540 million in 2007, compared to $456 million the
previous year. These figures do not include the
interactive components, as they were launched this year.
Advertisers are taking advantage of the full moviegoing
experience, from theater lobbies to concession stands,
producing a sizeable growth in integrated campaigns.
"[This] can, literally, double or triple the impact a
brand can make on the movie-goer," said Stu Ballatt,
president and chairman of the CAC.
Until now, theater owners have had an understandable
aversion to any ad campaign that would see moviegoers
using their cell phones during pre-show entertainment,
said Kerry Perse, director of digital relationship
marketing at Horizon Media. "What I find to be
interesting is the rapid change of mind-set of the
cinema owners: They really have done a 180 from where
they were," said Perse.
It's a welcome development for Screenvision and direct
competitor National CineMedia, which are seeking to
boost revenue by delivering better customer engagement
in the form of livelier pre-show entertainment.
Screenvision and Verizon Wireless rolled out their
polling program last Friday in movie theaters in
Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Detroit, Houston, Los
Angeles, New York, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. The
spots ask audiences questions related to their musical
preferences, and results appear on the screen.
Participation is possible across all handsets and
carriers. Also featured was a Verizon-branded short film
directed by Spike Lee that posed content questions to
the audience. Results were unavailable at press time.
One goal is to keep consumers engaged long after the
final credits roll. "What you start to do is you raise
the engagement level of your moviegoer," said Mike
Chico, evp of sales at Screenvision. "So, you have
people at the very rudimentary stage who are gaming or
polling and the next step would be to ask, 'Would you
like to learn more about our product and enter our
NCM also has begun to test interactivity in theaters. In
March, it partnered with the Brand Experience Lab, a
research and development company focused on emerging
technologies, to create interactive gaming for its
FirstLook, pre-show program.
NCM is testing AudienceGame, in which movie crowds act
as human joysticks to collectively control the gaming
elements on the screen, thanks to motion-sensor
technology installed in the theater. It hopes to launch
the program by early next year, at which time
advertisers will be attached.
The intent is to create a "well-planned, well-calculated
interactive component that enhances the experience, is a
lot of fun and doesn't get in the way of the [bigger]
picture --no pun intended," said Clifford Marks, NCM's
president of sales and chief marketing officer.
One of Brand Experience Lab's first tests, separate from
its deal with NCM, took place last year with MSNBC.com.
The online news organization was looking to create some
buzz around its first brand campaign, "A fuller spectrum
of news" and paired with BEL to create NewsBreaker Live,
which it refers to as the "first interactive cinema
crowd game." Launched with the summer 2007 release of
Spider-Man 3, NewsBreaker Live used similar
motion-sensing technology to create a game in which the
audience caught falling news headlines to win points as
Catherine Captain, vp of marketing for MSNBC.com, said
the site's strategy was to align with blockbuster movies
to capture an audience already in a cheerful mood.
Measured results showed 71 percent unaided recall of
MSNBC.com as the sponsor of the game, according to
Captain. Other measurements indicated 78 percent of
moviegoers played the game and 93 percent wanted to see
more games being played in theaters. Another 93 percent
said they would prefer to play a game than watch a
commercial before show time.
"We believe that interactivity will enhance the
moviegoing experience, offer brands an interesting way
to engage consumers and create a fun atmosphere in the
cinemas," said NCM's Marks. "We are hopeful that it will
bring incremental media dollars to the medium too, but
it is too hard to project the financial viability of
these types of new products until we learn more and see
how consumer reaction is to the ideas we bring them."
Added Horizon's Perse: "I think it will definitely drive
ad sales. I could imagine it changing the pricing models
with a premium for interactive campaigns. The cinemas
that support this functionality would have higher rates
and the demand for available inventory would become
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