FORUM: Can cinema break through the 1 per cent barrier? - You have to go back to the days when colour television was still a novelty to find cinema at as popular a level as it is these days. Admission figures should top the 130 million mark this year on t

It’s been a good year for cinema. Bankers such as Men in Black and the Lost World: Jurassic Park romped home and less fancied runners such as the Full Monty delivered as well. Still to come is the new Bond film and, er ... the Spice Girls. Who else? Spice World isn’t due for release until Boxing Day, so most of its audience delivery will be in 1998 - but even one week of Spice mania will probably help to push 1997 admission figures past the 131 million mark.

It’s been a good year for cinema. Bankers such as Men in Black and

the Lost World: Jurassic Park romped home and less fancied runners such

as the Full Monty delivered as well. Still to come is the new Bond film

and, er ... the Spice Girls. Who else? Spice World isn’t due for release

until Boxing Day, so most of its audience delivery will be in 1998 - but

even one week of Spice mania will probably help to push 1997 admission

figures past the 131 million mark.



That will be the highest since the 143 million admissions recorded in

1974. Cinema is the most powerful medium in existence. The audience

isn’t ironing or making cups of tea and the image is as big as it gets

It’s high quality too - which is why it’s the favourite medium for many

creative directors. All it needs are numbers. Bums on seats.



So now, in advertising terms, the medium must be booming. Well is

it?



Not exactly. Although people talk about cinema as a 1 per cent medium,

it actually struggles to get anywhere near 1 per cent of national

display advertising revenue (the most reliable recent figure was 0.8 per

cent).



Cinema advertising is sold by only two companies - Pearl & Dean and

Carlton Screen Advertising. The arrival in the market last year of

Carlton, which bought what was, once upon a time, Rank Screen

Advertising, was hailed in some quarters as a very good thing indeed.

Carlton said its mission would be to expand the medium’s client base.

And it was handily placed to do this - it could use its relationship

with its sister company, Carlton, the ITV sales house, to open difficult

client doors.



Agencies are divided as to the effectiveness of Carlton’s efforts in

this direction. But they are very clearly unimpressed by its efforts in

other directions - namely a dispute with P&D over how the admissions

figures break down. We know that Carlton represents cinemas accounting

for roughly 70 per cent of the audience. P&D has the remaining 30 per

cent. But for the last couple of months they’ve been daggers drawn over

the exact figure.



A disastrous own goal? According to Fiona Smedley, the joint managing

director of Universal McCann, the squabbling has badly affected the

medium’s revenue performance. She comments: ’Both were overclaiming to

the extent their figures added together totalled 109 per cent of

admissions.



That certainly didn’t help the credibility of the medium and advertisers

lost confidence. From the point of view of a planner, it is a 1 per cent

medium and it’s no use if it takes up 5 per cent of your time. It’s just

not worth it.’



But Smedley is by no means pessimistic about the medium’s future once

trading issues are resolved. Yet audiences are only a part of the

equation.



She adds: ’The truth is that they are a long way from being full. In

some categories such as alcohol, yes, there’s a limited supply but in

other areas there’s still a lot of scope. We’re seeing more multiplexes,

but they still have a long way to go. The number of screens per thousand

people in this country still lags way behind Europe and the US. And

multiplexes drive audiences and revenue - the more screens there are,

the more you have to pay to use them all. So the medium is nowhere near

its full potential.’



Can the two sales points really bury their differences? And, if so, can

increased audiences be translated into a greater share of advertising

revenue? Peter Howard-Williams, the managing director of P&D, argues

that the numbers row has been a storm in a teacup. He also argues that

the medium is busier than some people maintain. ’We’re fully booked for

most of the year - from summer onwards.’



But he cautions: ’Growth in revenue isn’t inevitable. One of our

problems is that we have limited minutage. The maximum is ten minutes

but some cinemas keep it to four and a half. Once we are full, the only

way to increase revenue is to increase yield. There’s no reason why we

can’t do that, but it’s certainly not our intention to disrupt the

market.’



Much of that is echoed by Debbie Chalet, the sales director of Carlton

Screen Advertising. ’Yes, we’ll be looking for advertisers to pay a

little more next year. We’re not completely sold but demand is certainly

outstripping supply for films such as Men in Black,’ she says.



Chalet is more willing to acknowledge the damage done by the squabbling:

’I admit the dispute meant that credibility was a problem and it has

taken the shine off the good news. But that issue is resolved now and we

are ready to forge ahead. And I think we have done exactly what we said

we would in terms of widening the client base. We’ve had masses of car

advertising and encouraged people such as Procter & Gamble to come

in.’



Nick Sperrin, the client services director of BBJ Media Services - the

medium’s biggest buyer - agrees that lot of people see cinema as two

little boys squabbling. ’Cinema should be going out and getting revenue

from TV, radio and press - as it is, it’s the lowest profile medium in

the industry, which is incredible when you consider the story they have

to tell. Last year, the highest rating TV spot against 16- to

34-year-olds came during the England/Holland game in Euro 96. It scored

3.9 million. Men in Black in the cinema scored 4.5 million.



’Cinema can grow beyond 1 per cent but revenue is not directly linked to

audience. That said, the fact that there are more eyes to buy will be a

factor,’ he adds.



But Steve Clark, a group director of Motive Communications, says the

medium still has to answer all sorts of difficult questions. ’For

example, how many people are actually in their seats when the ads are

on? Currently, we pay for every ticket sold.



’Cinema may be great but there are lots of other ways of reaching young

people these days - magazines are booming, there’s video, the Internet

and satellite TV. Year on year, revenue has been flat while audiences

have been up by 3 per cent. I’d just be a little bit sceptical about any

hype there is around the cinema medium.’



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