Paid spots would be add-ons, exhibs say

Sony’s recent decision to pay for onscreen ads for upcoming Revolution Studios laffer “Animal” has studio distribs worried that they’re now on a slippery slope leading to an eventual loss of free trailer space.

But exhibs insist that any spread of paid movie ads would be an add-on to the traditional block of free trailers. And one exhib exec noted that though the “Animal” ad was the first such move by a major distrib, some independents have previously paid for their trailers to be shown.

Major distribs are also believed to have made certain concessions on film rentals and other terms with exhibs in exchange for good trailer distribution over the years.

But onscreen advertising reps a growing new revenue source for exhibs, with circuits incrementally winning consumer acceptance for ads from companies including Nike and Ford Motors that run prior to feature presentations. Together, the ads offer cash-strapped exhibs tens of millions of dollars in additional annual revenue currently.

“It’s important to us, and it’s growing,” AMC Entertainment spokesman Rick King said of onscreen advertising in general. He declined to discuss the “Animal” flap except to characterize the fuss as unwarranted.

Still, exhibs’ demurrals notwithstanding, the “Animal” move has set industry tongues awagging about the prospect of a Hollywood pack mentality holding sway once more. As one Hollywood insider observed, “Nobody was paying actors $20 million a picture until (then-Sony boss) Mark Canton gave it to Jim Carrey.”

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