Canadian theater offers discounts via app tied to ads

TORONTO — Canadian exhibitor Cineplex Entertainment is rolling out the second wave of its TimePlay gaming application as it finds news ways to generate revenue by marrying smartphones with bigscreen advertising.

The concept of TimePlay is to engage audiences in a way that most advertising can’t — by getting moviegoers to participate in branded video and trivia games on the theater screen that can win them real-time discounts and free gifts like popcorn and loyalty rewards. To play, all audience members need to do is download a free app available for iPhones, BlackBerrys and Android devices, and enable the app.

“We are trying to be as interactive as we can be in all of our businesses,” says Cineplex spokeswoman Pat Marshall. “From an advertiser’s perspective, it’s a really unique way to interact with guests.”

Cineplex, Canada’s biggest cinema operator with 133 theatres and 1,437 screens, says it will more than double the number of screens showcasing the interactive pre-show to 231 before the end of this year.

The expansion comes after the company launched TimePlay as a pilot program on 12 screens last holiday season in Toronto, partnering with major advertisers like Ford and Canon, before beefing up the rollout this past spring.

The concept of TimePlay was born when the cinema ad market dropped in 2008. That was the year the auto industry pulled back on its cinema advertising spending — and forced exhibs, who get a chunk of their earnings from pre-show ads, and other outfits that sell ad space and derive revenue from advertising, to get creative with concepts that could grab auds’ attention.

Despite initial skepticism — there’s a certain audience segment that will always avoid the commerical pre-show roll — Cineplex has found that moviegoers are actually showing up earlier to participate in TimePlay before the lights dim and the trailers start, according to Marshall.

In the third quarter ended Sept. 30, Cineplex reported revenues in its media division grew 3.6% from a year earlier to $23 million, though it didn’t break out how much came from ad sales for TimePlay.

Cineplex says it is already working on new ways to engage the audience with future versions of the program. Some of the ideas include interactive 3D games that run before certain movies, as well as offers targeted to a specific demographics that attend certain genre pic.

Next, they can work on an app that makes sure viewers turn off their phones before the film begins.

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