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No curbs on blurbs

Fox is latest to join exhibs' ad venture

If you can’t beat ’em, control ’em.

Studio execs may say they hate seeing ads in theaters, but they continue to make deals to provide promo content for the pre-show blurb parade.

Latest to link up is 20th Century Fox, which has joined Universal and Sony in pacting with National CineMedia to provide content for the in-cinema ad network’s 20-minute pre-show package.

The 2½-minute segments tout upcoming titles and typically include filmmaker interviews along with sneak peaks at footage. They are bookended with 30-second ads that NCM sells.

NCM is a joint venture of Regal Entertainment Group, AMC Entertainment (which recently said it will merge with Loews Cineplex) and Cinemark USA. All told the blurb compact covers 13,000 screens.

In-theater ads have received renewed scrutiny during the very public discussion of the slack summer season at the box office and the gradual, long-term decline in movie attendance.

Exhibs see the advertising revenue as the fastest-growing part of their biz while ticket and concessions sales are flat or down.

Some distribs, however, think bombarding auds with a blurb blitz before the lights go down only deters some moviegoers from venturing to theaters.

Exhibs counter that, so far, chains that run the pre-show ads have attendance trends similar to those that don’t screen blurbs.

NCM chief Kurt Hall also says the studio’s content and better-quality ads can boost the entertainment value of the pre-show blurbs. “The key is to make sure that this stuff is original and nothing anyone has seen before,” he said.

And as Fox’s deal shows, studios are tempted to use the pre-shows to market to a captive aud.

‘Wonderful means’

In a statement announcing the deal, Fox marketing prexy Pam Levine said, NCM’s “vast national network of theaters provides a wonderful means for us to place a longform content about our upcoming releases in front of our most important target — moviegoers.”

Other content partners for NCM include NBC and Turner Broadcasting.

NCM’s Hall described the content as “primarily sneak previews, making-of or behind-the-scenes. A lot of this stuff is being done for the DVD eventually.”

While terms of the Fox deal were not disclosed, it also includes a commitment to purchase ad time with NCM.

Hall expects that most of Fox’s ad buy will be for nontheatrical properties.

“Generally, a lot of the studios have been using their (ad) units for DVDs or music or other parts of their corporate empires,” he said.

Starting in January, NCM will launch a single-format 20-minute pre-show with full video and audio on 10,500 screens that it is specially equipping with digital projectors connected to a centralized satellite distrib system.

NCM says the show will be viewed by an annual audience of 565 million people.

With three studios signed up, Hall said he doesn’t expect to ink content deals with any more studios.

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