Century nixes ‘rolling stock’ ads in theaters

Chain to continue movie trivia slides mixed with local biz promos

In an move likely to stir further debate over the spread of cinema advertising, Century Theaters is circulating a public promise to keep multiplexes free from on-screen product pitches.

Such a circuit-wide marketing ploy is unprecedented, though Pacific Theaters uses an ad-free pledge to hype Hollywood’s upscale ArcLight theaters to cineastes.

“We feel that moviegoing is unique — an exciting experience that should have no relationship to sitting at home watching television,” Century chief Raymond Syufy said. “We want you to sit back, relax and enjoy the show.”

San Rafael-based chain will take that message to prospective patrons via newspaper promotions in several markets, Syufy said.

Magic maintained

“Moviegoing has always been a magical experience; our guests come to escape and be entertained,” Century prexy Joseph Syufy said. “Hollywood provides the movies, and our job is to provide a comfortable and relaxing atmosphere.”

Century operates more than 900 screens in 75 locations in 11 states. Its CineArts unit operates 23 arthouse screens in six locations.

Privately held company, founded by the Syufys’ father Raymond Sr. in 1941, plans to add approximately 250 screens over the next three years. Other recent marketing innovations include chain’s making print-at-home ticketing available through Internet ticketer Fandango.

In keeping with the chain’s long-standing practice, the only product promos that will show up on screen at Century theaters will be a slide show of movie trivia mixed with a few promos of local businesses. No “rolling stock” ads will be run, officials stressed.

Avoiding backlash to ads

“We’re worried there’s going to be a backlash against ads and that we’ll get painted with the same brush as others,” Raymond Syufy Jr. said. “So, we’re not attacking what anybody else is doing, but we want to make it clear to the public that we’re not running (rolling stock) ads.”

The nation’s biggest movie chain — 6,000-screen Regal Entertainment — has been among the lead proponents of on-screen advertising. Looking to grow cinema advertising as a more meaningful source of ancillary revenue, Regal is currently engaged in a major push to install new digital systems in about two thirds of its auditoriums to facilitate the introduction of a 20-minute “pre-show” of product commercials and interstitial entertainment.

Regal aims to run its ads prior to the advertised showtimes of feature presentations. That could help it negotiate the more litigious elements of the moviegoing public, some of whom recently took their irritation over in-theater commercials to court.

In a class-action suit filed against Loews Cineplex in Illinois, litigants argue that the No. 3 U.S. exhib effectively defrauds the public by running ads at a time it advertises the intent to run a movie. Though many industryites doubt the legal merits of such a claim, it does draw a distinction between the approach of Loews and its Screenvision ad partner and Regal.

Screenvision execs believe national advertisers would be harder to attract if their product pitches were played prior to the lights dimming. Regal says its interstitial advertising — created by content partners such as NBC and others — will prove so compelling, patrons will show up early just to catch the pre-show.

Century, on the other hand, is hopeful auds will appreciate their making the cinema an advertising-free zone.

“We want to see that the public sees how we are different from some others, and we’ll see if we’re rewarded for it,” Syufy said.

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