Media Analysis: Can cinema maintain its impressive momentum? - The latest revenue figures show the medium is booming. Will it last, Alasdair Reid asks?

Cinema’s top advertising category in 1999 was food, according to figures published last week. Surprising? Actually, not really.

Cinema’s top advertising category in 1999 was food, according to

figures published last week. Surprising? Actually, not really.

Food has been heading up the league table for a couple of years now -

and we are, after all, talking about the sorts of food you can find not

a million miles from your nearest cinema screen. Like Doritos or


More surprising is the appearance of cars at number four on the table -

courtesy of a doubling in year-on-year spend - and other newcomers near

the top, like the computer and business-to-business categories. These

are grown-up sectors. Cinema is a youth medium, isn’t it? Surely it’s

all about drinks and fashion, not about trying to reach people who are

thinking of buying a Peugeot 206?

No longer, apparently. Peugeot 206 was, in fact, the medium’s

biggest-spending individual brand last year, with a total of pounds 3.3

million. And drink advertising, though it came second on the table,

experienced the biggest proportionate fall, dropping more than 40 per

cent to pounds 12.5 million - proving that they were only there

previously because they couldn’t get access to TV.

But this was the only blemish on a set of record figures for the


In 1999, cinema amassed its highest advertising revenue, was the fastest

growing medium (according to AC Neilsen MMS), recorded its biggest box

office weekend ever and chalked up its highest admissions since


What’s happening? Is the medium merely the beneficiary of a renaissance

in Hollywood’s ability to deliver the goods or is it more complicated

than that? Christine Costello, the managing director of Pearl & Dean,

says Hollywood is only part of the story. She states: ’We’ve always been

reliant on the Hollywood product but we have recorded audience growth in

all but one of the last ten years. That is continuing to accelerate.

Exhibitors have also been better at marketing their products. But on the

sales side, we have been working to extend the base of advertising on

cinema. Our audience is broader as well as bigger and we are no longer a

one-trick pony in terms of audience and advertisers. We now provide

packages and pricing structures for advertisers targeting adults with

children. In the past we have been putting off this group.’

Costello admits that the medium needs to improve the quality of service

and research and says research is an urgent priority, one that has to be

addressed at a joint industry level. ’We realise we have to demonstrate

how effective cinema is, especially as part of a mixed-media


This is something the medium’s critics on the buying side point to. They

add that cinema shouldn’t get complacent. The medium’s growth

percentages look good but it’s starting from a low base. Its new

converts, especially fmcg advertisers, are using it to top up TV


Accountability is a big concern for Iain Jacob, client services director

of Motive Communications. He says: ’Cinema must make a step change in

accountability if it wants to be a grown-up medium. Nearly 70 per cent

of admissions are in multiplexes, which is great. The question about the

audience numbers is: at what time do people come in during the


They have to research this. Other media have to confront issues like


In cinema you don’t even know if your ad has run. I’m also concerned

about how the medium adds genuine value. In theory, it’s possible to

develop marketing packages and promotions around the advertising, but in

practice it’s difficult because cinema managers are not under direct

control of the sales points.’

But Jacob agrees that the medium continues to do well considering it is

reliant on circumstances beyond the control of the companies selling the

advertising. ’Cinema has had a great decade and it has constantly

outperformed the rest of the media market. To some degree that has to be

down to more assertive marketing. I also believe the future is pretty

positive for the medium. It has no need to fear digital technologies -

they will actually allow it to address some of the issues that give

concern in some quarters. It will lead to more flexible distribution of


Robert Ray, the joint managing director of MediaVest, says: ’The

encouraging thing is that the sales outfits have been listening to

advertisers and have been coming up with more flexible ways to use the

medium. You can buy individual film packages, audience guarantees or buy

against individual audience groups. There is also added value that we

can access - like in-foyer screens and promotions. All round, the medium

is far more commercially minded. I only hope that doesn’t lead to

inflated prices.’

Ray believes the medium’s ability to widen its client base is due in a

large part to better sales efforts. And he agrees that Hollywood is the

only audience driver. ’Growth continues to be driven by the big

blockbusters like Star Wars, but there is also a broader range of films

around these days, including British hit films. There is also a better

environment, especially in the multiplexes, that companies like Virgin

have continued to build.’

Hilary Taylor, a director of Manning Gottlieb Media, says: ’There have

been so many improvements that make the whole experience much easier for

consumers. Of course, there are lots of worries. The way the ad reel is

put together and the whole structure of the advertising experience

hasn’t changed in ages and they could inject more imagination into the

format. We all know the accountability problems too. It is not only a

powerful medium but it is broadening its appeal again - and, in fact,

its success as an advertising medium probably isn’t down to the sales

teams at all. It’s down to the fact that agencies and advertisers have

rediscovered cinema as consumers themselves.’

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