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Auds balk at bigscreen blurbs

27% say they attend less because of commercials

Pre-show ads in cinemas may be dampening box office, according to a consumer survey released Wednesday by market research firm InsightExpress.

Of the moviegoers surveyed, 53% said that they wanted exhibs to stop showing commercials, while 27% said they go to the movies less because of the blurb barrage that now opens films on many screens. By comparison, just 13% said they liked the onscreen ads.

A previous InsightExpress study looked at consumer attitudes toward DVDs that feature ads or trailers that can’t be fast-forwarded through and found 54% were frustrated by that feature; 16% said they were angry.

InsightExpress prexy Lee Smith said the similarity between that and onscreen ads is that in both instances, people believe the money they’ve paid to watch a film should mean they don’t have to sit through ads.

“People do get angry when they feel they are being forced to consume commercials,” he said. “They are paying money to go and experience something, and they don’t have the ability to control what messages they receive.”

The movie ad study also found 52% considered the ads intrusive, while 71% thought theaters should charge less for tickets if they are going to show ads.

As exhibs look for new revenue streams beyond ticket and concession sales, several large chains have zeroed in on in-theater ads as a way to bolster the bottom line.

Cinema Advertising Council reported exhibs collected $356 million last year from onscreen and lobby ads, a 37% jump from 2002 (Daily Variety, June 13).

The nation’s largest chain, Regal Entertainment, has been particularly bullish about the blurb biz, with its CineMedia unit reporting 15% revenue growth during the first three quarters of 2004.

But movie studios nearly uniformly condemn the bigscreen blurbs. “I hate them,” said 20th Century Fox distrib prexy Bruce Snyder. “Get rid of them all. We’d rather see trailers.”

New Line distrib chief David Tuckerman was not surprised by the InsightExpress study results. “I’ve never liked commercials in theaters. I don’t think they belong there.”

Exhibs’ big push to turn movie screens into an advertising medium comes at a time when overall movie attendance has been shrinking. According to Exhibitor Relations, attendance is down 2.3% so far this year, following a 4.3% drop in 2003. Over the same period, total box office receipts have been flat, as a downturn in attendance has been masked by an 8% jump in ticket price, from an average of $5.80 in 2002 to $6.25 this year.

Exhibitor Relations’ Paul Dergarabedian said if onscreen blurbs turn off moviegoers, it eventually will hurt exhibs.

“Exhibitors need every bit of revenue stream they can get,” he said. But a diminishing aud “doesn’t just hurt the in-theater commercial market, it hurts the movies and it hurts concession sales.”

Nonetheless, exhibs maintain auds eventually will warm to the ads.

Regal CineMedia marketing and sales prexy Cliff Marks pointed to a 2003 study by Arbitron that found 66% of auds said they agreed with the statement, “I don’t mind the advertisements they put on before the movie begins.”

The Arbitron study also found that younger people and those who go to the movies most frequently were the least likely to object to the messages.

“There are clearly people that don’t like advertising in movie theaters,” Marks said, “but there also people who don’t like ads on TV or on the radio. The notion of people disliking advertising is not a new one.”

He said Regal has sought to make the promos more appealing by developing its 20-minute full-motion video program, which blends blurbs with filmmaker interviews from partners Universal, Sony, NBC and Turner Broadcasting.

“We have specifically a 20-minute entertainment program that consumers have responded very well to,” he said. “Overwhelmingly, people who come to our theaters accept the advertising.”

He said the main issue is the quality of the ads. “People don’t dislike advertising so much as they dislike bad advertising.” To that end, he said, CineMedia encourages advertisers to create spots specifically for the movie aud, or to run ads in theaters before their tube flights.

The InsightExpress study found 39% of those surveyed said they’d be more receptive to blurbs if they hadn’t already seen them on TV. Funny spots also seem to be an easier sell, as 55% said they’d like an ad more if it made them laugh.

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