Pic players navigate busy Brit sked

Olympics hike marketing prices, but add potential auds

It’s going to be a crowded few months for the film biz in London this summer, with Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee in June, followed by the Olympic Games beginning July 27. Add to that distraction of June’s month-long Euro 2012 soccer championship to be held in Poland and Ukraine. But while challenges like increased advertising costs and dicier transportation are among the raft of problems distribs will face, the sheer numbers of people that figure to come to the see games — expected to be close to 11 million — could provide an opportunity for those with bold marketing plans.

It’s been 64 years since the Olympics was held in the U.K. capital and eight years since they were held in a nearby time zone (Athens in 2004). But the media landscape is far different than it was even then, and many bizzers trying to release and market a pic during the congested period, which sits right in the peak time for cinema-going in the U.K., are scrambling to find the best strategy.

With Olympics sponsors crowding the advertising space, it will be tougher to cinch key ad spots to market a summer pic, and irrevocably lock in those that do.

“It’s completely unprecedented,” says Rob Wilkerson, CEO of entertainment media agency Target Media. “Every Olympics gets bigger, but I think this one will be the biggest media event in history, and I think everyone is expecting this to be bigger and bolder and more dramatic than anything before.”

Somewhat mitigating upcharges is the fact that commercial-free BBC has sole rights to air the Olympics, but Wilkerson says he’s been prepping his clients (including indie distribs such as Momentum Pictures, Artificial Eye and StudioCanal) to expect outdoor advertising costs to increase around 10%-15%, and TV ads to see an inflation rate of around 2%-3%.

Additionally, since viewers are expected to tune in the Olympics above all else, eyeballs for channels such as ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5 — the ones on which those ads will air — figure to be depressed during the Games’ two-week run.

“The challenge is that people will be watching less commercial TV than normal,” says Cameron Saunders, U.K. managing director of Twentieth Century Fox. “You might be able to buy spots on alternative channels during the Olympics, but no one is going to want to put their best spots against an Olympic final.”

Saunders says that while the event is a “giant unknown,” the distrib had to book outdoor advertising in London and the southeast of Blighty (a key area for cinema-going) for some of its releases as much as a year ago, as opposed to the more standard three-month timeframe.

“A lot of stuff for media we’ve locked in already,” Saunders says. “And that’s tough, because you can’t move dates for your film. Once you book media, you can’t change.”

Saunders adds that Fox, which is releasing “Ice Age: Continental Drift” in Blighty on July 13 and “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” on Aug. 3, saw certain ad format costs increase 20%-25% year-on-year. “Outdoor advertising has seen a particular increase in cost, whereas TV and online are less affected,” he says.

Other majors have slated pics during the July 27-Aug. 12 Olympics period (Universal with “Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax,” Paramount with “G.I. Joe: Retaliation” and Disney previewing Scotland-set “Brave”).

But Wilkerson says the market always overestimates the impact of such big events, and adds that Target is not recommending clients book ads in advance.”We think the best advice is to wait and see how the market develops and monitor it,” he says.

For instance, last year major players in the outdoor industry decided to package their premium poster sites and auction them online for key locations — some to Olympic sponsors only.

“After years of recession, they saw it as an opportunity to lead the market and turn it back into growth,” Wilkerson says.

However, demand didn’t match expectations, and by the end of January, sites near the Olympic Park in Stratford, London, became available to non-Olympic sponsors.

Logistics could also be a problem for distribs, including transportation issues for prints. The West End legit biz could see adverse affects in trying to stage premieres.

“Distributors are worried that there will be issues getting transit vans all around London to ferry prints and publicity matter around the city,” says Mark Batey, chief exec of the Film Distributors’ Assn. “Plus the availability of police officers and possibly event management you need to rely on to stage a premiere could all be pulled to Stratford, making it more challenging to hold (a premiere).”

However, calculated risks could succeed. Jason Wood, director of programming at arthouse Curzon Cinemas, says smart counterprogramming could capitalize on the increased footfall hitting London streets.

“Distributors have to realize that they can’t just put their head in the sand,” he says. “They know that the July and August period is a really good opportunity for them to release titles into cinemas.”

The exhib has already programmed niche titles during the period from its sister company, distrib Artificial Eye, such as restaurant docu “El Bulli” and Chinese art docu “Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry.”

Wood says Curzon will lower it targets, during the period, and revise its holdover strategies.

Studiocanal is aiming to get the best of both worlds by releasing female athletics drama “Fast Girls” on June 15 — ahead of the Olympics crush but able to take advantage of its buzz.

“Although we’re releasing in the middle of the Euro Cup, we feel the film is going to benefit from the Olympics feeling,” says John Trafford-Owen, head of U.K. theatrical distribution at Studiocanal. “We’ll have taken our money by the time the Olympics start, so we’re not worried about finding a place in the market.”

Clearly, this is still a summer ripe with possibilities.

“People don’t desert cinema in the droves that everyone thinks when these things come around,” Wilkerson says. “There will be opportunities for distributors to carve out market share for themselves, and it will be the braver ones that succeed. I think it’s foolhardy to say people’s behavior will change completely during that period. It will adjust, and it will evolve.”

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