According to Tom Perakos, the number of movie trailers screened in the U.K. has doubled since he came to Blighty from Los Angeles two years ago.

He doesn’t claim credit for this proliferation of promos, from an average of two per screening to four. But his arrival has certainly given British distribs the ammunition they need to become more aggressive in the way they deploy this powerful weapon in their marketing armory.

His company, Theatrical Entertainment Services, works on behalf of all the Hollywood studios to monitor how cinemas play trailers and how audiences react to them. It has been operating in the U.S. since 1986 and expanded to Britain in 2001.

That’s just the start. Having sold TES to American market research giant TNS soon after he moved to London, Perakos is now using the U.K. as the launch pad for a global rollout.

He moved into Spain and Germany last year and plans to add France, Mexico, Australia and New Zealand by the end of this year, followed by Italy, Japan, South Korea and Brazil in 2004.

Former UIP chairman Paul Oneile is acting as a consultant to spearhead this global drive jointly with Perakos. “I’m the one in the bow of the boat shouting ‘full steam ahead,’ and Paul’s the one in the back shouting ‘Iceberg, iceberg!’ ” Perakos jokes. UIP sales VP Steve Sommersby has been hired to run the European operation.

TES, which employs 75 full-time staff and a staggering 20,000 part-time researchers worldwide, is not just about tracking which trailers are running in front of which movies in exhaustive detail. It also conducts exit polls and monitors how cinemas use all those other expensive materials that distribs send them — posters, standees, cross-promotions and the like.

Trailers are arguably the most important, and certainly the most cost-effective, form of movie marketing. Unlike TV ads or billboards, they are guaranteed to impact exclusively on a captive audience of proven cinema-goers. “Trailering is the industry’s No. 1 bang for its buck,” Perakos argues.

But before TES, distribs could never be sure how their trailers were being played. “We send out hundreds every year, and before these guys came along we never knew what happened to them,” says UIP president Andrew Cripps. “There’s no contractual obligation for exhibitors to run our trailers, but now at least we have the ammunition for a discussion.”

For the first time, distribs can hold exhibs to account, which may partly explain why more trailers are getting to the screen. Another explanation is that distribs are sending out shorter trailers, so that more can be squeezed in before the main feature.

Cripps reports that exhibs have been “surprisingly supportive” about the service provided by TES. Perakos points out that exhib bosses are as eager as distribs to find out exactly what their (often low-paid) cinema staff are really up to.

His greatest challenge has been to overcome the suspicions of local distrib toppers. “Certain individuals think Big Daddy is looking over their shoulder from Hollywood,” he says. “We have to get people to understand that we’re not doing a report card on them.”

As well as repping distribs, TES works for advertisers to assess the impact of their cinema commercials. But whereas Perakos is convinced that audiences like trailers, he questions their enthusiasm for corporate spots. He was startled to discover that in Germany, customers have to sit through 40 ads before they even get to the trailers.

If his research persuades advertisers to become more selective about the way they use the cinema, it won’t please exhibitors. But distribs will be happy if this tilts the balance toward trailers, and ultimately everyone should benefit from greater customer satisfaction.

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