Over recent years, we’ve focused deeply on the pandemic’s impact on admissions at the box office, but cinema advertising has been equally impacted. While the pre-show advertising might not be the first thing many moviegoers think of as important for a cinema’s operation, advertising is an important tool in cinema, and a highly-impactful one. Over time, big screen advertising has become more dynamic, targeted, and responsive to reporting.
On a recent episode of Behind the Screens—Movio & Numero’s industry podcast exploring the people behind the box office—we spoke with Steve Davis, Exhibition Director of Digital Cinema Media (DCM) about cinema advertising, its future, and the payoff and impact it has compared to other forms of advertising.
Leveraging the return of cinemagoers
Now that confidence is returning to the cinema, and strong evidence supports the fact that even when a blockbuster film is released simultaneously on digital platforms people still come to see it on the big screen, what’s changed in cinema advertising?
Every few years, DCM take a look at how many people are sitting through different positions of the pre-show of movies at the cinema. The results have shown that 83% of moviegoers are seated during the advertisements, which jumps to 91% when looking at the Bronze spot—the last advertisement in the main reel—and then to 94% for the Silver spot—the final commercial message before the trailers. By the Gold spot—the last commercial message before the main feature, after the trailers—attendance is at 100%.
“Many pandemic rituals have changed across society,” Steve Davis put it, “But despite that, cinema rituals have roughly remained the same. Maybe people are likely to arrive a little earlier and spend less time in the foyer than previously, but in effect it means even more people are seated when the ads begin.”
The impact of the big screen
In 2017, DCM launched a strategy around moviegoers aged 16-34. “Cinema arguably has the highest profile of that audience, and we’ve seen them return quicker than everyone else,” Davis explained. “And in every other medium, they’re blocking advertising. They’re not as engaged with it. But from a cinema perspective, it’s part of the overall experience.”
“Cinema is pretty much the only medium where there aren’t ad-blockers out there.”
Cinema is unique in its integration of advertising into the experience, but they’re also highly impactful due to the scale and quality of cinema screens and sound. In a neurological survey DCM ran in 2016, they compared the effectiveness of ads in the cinema against the same ads on TV. After seeing the ads on TV, people asked to describe them would only use two or three words. But when describing the same ad seen in the cinema, they used an average of twelve words.
“Fundamentally, moviegoers are emotionally and physically engaged, and anticipate the whole cinema experience, including the movie trailers and the ads,” Davis said. “And we’ve not seen this change post-pandemic.”
“People are paying to pay attention. Rather than being likely to prep ad-blockers, moviegoers are actually looking forward to the ad roll.”
New trends with advertisers
More of the changes DCM has seen are around the emergence of new advertisers through the pandemic. Nearly all traditional cinema advertisers returned quite quickly when they reopened, despite hesitancy at the start of the pandemic, but there are new businesses emerging as well.
“I find it fascinating that, while some businesses have been on their knees and found it really hard, there’s also some that didn’t exist before COVID.” Delivery companies and others established themselves during the pandemic through AV campaigns on TV, and now their strategies are expanding to include the big screen as well.
DCM are seeing brands committing to long-term investments across 2022, especially as the slate of incredible films grows and solidifies. “We’ve already sold the Gold spot positions, cinema’s most powerful advertising opportunity, for Fantastic Beasts, Jurassic World, Black Panther, and Avatar 2.”
And by seeing the biggest brands commit their money for the year is giving confidence to secondary and tertiary advertisers. “Ultimately,” Davis said, “if something is the right fit for the audience, and someone's film is perfect for the brand, people will lay down that money early. And the more that happens, the more it will encourage everyone else.”
The next frontiers for cinema advertising
Cinema offers a unique and trusted environment for brands where they can connect with consumers at scale and build brand equity. Since going digital in 2012, the accountability and transparency DCM can offer to brands has enormously increased.
“If you think back to 35 millimeter 10 years ago, we were just sending something out into the ether and getting an annual number from a cinema. Now, because we’re digital, we know exactly how long every single pre-show is for every single screening. Whether it’s on the agency or client or exhibitor’s side, cinema’s providing robust processes and reporting that underpin the sales strategy of what we do.”
Going digital changed the cinema advertising industry, and it likely won’t be the last big change we see. Reaching a broadband level of delivering content brought flexibility and targeting for specific parts of the day, and more. DCM have buying routes to engage with key genres or audiences throughout the year, and with accurate point of sale data coming in constantly, they even have the flexibility to add an advertiser into the pre-show if they show interest in a movie after its big opening weekend.
“Probably one of the most exciting things at the moment is DCM studios.”
DCM studios is DCM’s creative arm which helps inspire brands and agency partners to maximise the power and potential of the cinema experience. They work closely with advertisers to create bespoke content ahead of movie releases. “It improves the power of the big screen, delivering tightened consumer engagement through compelling storytelling.”
Steve Davis had many more insights into the world of cinema advertising, data, and how DCM are helping the UK cinema advertising market return along with moviegoers; to hear it all, listen to the full interview on Behind the Screens.