Movie-advertising network National CineMedia has cut deals with partners including Disney’s Maker Studios, Twitter, Shazam Entertainment and the Grammy Awards in a bid to bring sponsored content to the silver screen.
NCM Media Networks is pitching marketers on the new concepts at its third upfront Wednesday in New York. The company is previewing a revamped FirstLook pre-movie programming block, which it will launch this coming weekend.
“It’s all about creating a new experience for the cinema,” said Cliff Marks, NCM Media Networks’ president of sales and marketing.
Out of the 25-minute FirstLook preshow, NCM sells about 7-8 minutes of ads. The company wants to attract advertisers and agencies with the prospect of producing branded entertainment and promos with Maker, Shazam, Twitter and others that will run in the ad inventory.
But, Marks added, the company will take care not to “overly commercialize” its programming mix: “We are going to find that happy medium that brands associate with Hollywood and the movies, and that our customers find interesting and engaging. It can’t just be an infomercial.”
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NCM’s pitch to Madison Avenue comes a week after it announced a deal to acquire rival Screenvision for $375 million. That will boost NCM’s reach from about 20,000 screens to 34,000 screens, getting in front of some 1.1 billion moviegoers annually.
The company is again holding an ad presentation during TV upfronts week, because NCM delivers audiences that rival television, Marks said. NCM’s Nielsen-rated average unduplicated weekly audience for FirstLook is equivalent to a TV rating of 7.4 among adults 18-49, which would put it the top 10 primetime shows.
With Shazam’s media-recognition app, NCM is aiming to make the FirstLook preshow entirely “Shazam-able.” That will let theater patrons use Shazam to get more information about what’s showing on the screen, and would let advertisers deliver offers or digital content to their mobile phones. The companies expect the Shazam features to be fully launched in September.
“This is a very new twist for us — we spent years telling people, ‘No, don’t use your phone in the theater!” Marks said. “We are going to do a very good job telling people that it’s OK to use it before the movie but not during the show.”
According to NCM, moviegoers love their smartphones: 85% use them before they plan a movie night out to check showtimes, watch a trailer or buy a ticket.
NCM will work with Maker Studios, the YouTube multichannel network that Disney bought in a deal worth at least $500 million, to create content that can play on both movie and Internet screens, said Marks: “Maker brings efficient way to narrowcast to audiences.”
With the Grammy Awards, NCM wants to line up a sponsor to underwrite regular music-centric content underscoring “how important music is to the movies,” Marks said, citing the example of Disney’s “Frozen,” whose soundtrack has been a major hit.
NCM announced its partnership with Twitter earlier this year. Under that deal, NCM-affiliated theaters would run a 1-minute weekly show focused on trending movie and entertainment content, powered by Twitter and Vine, starting in mid-2014. Marks said the companies have yet to find a sponsor for the idea.
In addition, NCM has pacted with Ideas United, which specializes in longform branded entertainment produced by college kids.
NCM’s FirstLook preshow includes content licensed from ABC, A+E Television Networks, CBS Entertainment, Hasbro, Microsoft, NBC, Sony Pictures Entertainment and Turner Broadcasting System. The company also will update FirstLook5, a “snackable” 5-minute digital video version of the show with the new FirstLook design, and will launch FirstLookYou!, a new user-generated social-video platform lets moviegoers record their 20-second reactions via booths in select theater lobbies and then share them to Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.
Also at its upfront, NCM introduced the Cinema Audience Targeting Optimizer (CATO) system. Expected to launch in 2015, along with the integration of the Screenvision theaters, the system is designed to help advertisers target campaigns based on film genres that reach their target demos.
NCM is holding the “The Bigger Picture” upfront at the AMC Loews Lincoln Square 13 theater in Manhattan, hosted by comedian Frank Caliendo.