Media: Behind the hype - CMA sees room to improve despite cinema boom

Increased competition may have persuaded the CMA to advertise, Lucy Aitken says.

With sequels to Shrek and Spider-man launching to a blockbuster-hungry crowd and the Lord of the Rings trilogy achieving record admissions at the box office (£175 million and counting, according to Mintel), cinemas have never been busier. In May, Cinema Advertising Association figures counted 13.1 million admissions and, despite a dip last year, they have been rising since 1988.

So it's surprising that the Cinema Marketing Agency, which declined to comment for this article, has been briefing the AAR about an assignment to persuade people to visit cinemas more frequently.

"For us, it's about not resting on our laurels," says Adam Mills, the joint sales director of Carlton Screen and the director of the CAA, which, along with the UK Film Council and film distribution and cinema exhibition sectors, funds the CMA.

According to Mills, Carlton has a 64 per cent share of the cinema ad sales market and Pearl & Dean has the remainder. Cinema is unique among media in having such a tiny number of sales houses, but, then again, it's a tiny medium (it claims 1 per cent of UK adspend, or £180 million, according to the Advertising Association). One goal of the campaign must be to boost this figure as well as admission revenue.

Claire Murray, an associate director at MediaCom, says: "I think the CMA has seen what the Radio Advertising Bureau has done for radio and this will, hopefully, be the first stage of a larger level of support.

There has been agency pressure for this to happen, as cinema is still not represented as an investment versus other media.

"It's long overdue. Admissions saw a big increase a few years ago and it would have made sense to do a campaign off the back of that."

One reason cinema may suddenly be selling itself more keenly is because of the rise in DVD rental and video-on-demand, Natalie Yorke, an account director at Universal McCann, says. She adds: "I believe the CMA has a fairly tough task ahead of it in attempting to boost cinema-going. It has to find an angle that is motivating. The experience could be something for it to exploit but what is more motivating than the actual release and price, both of which are being communicated already?"

Prices are kept competitive through initiatives such as Orange Wednesdays (co-ordinated by the CMA), which offers two-for-one tickets to Orange customers. But 13.1 million admissions a month - fewer viewers than some episodes of Coronation Street attract - means that cinema is rarely sold as a solus medium. Mills says: "Some clients use us on a solus basis, such as Mini when it relaunched. But fundamentally, our pitch is to complement TV."

Mills claims cinema is an effective complement to TV because fans of the big screen don't tend to watch much on the small screen. But perhaps the CMA is wary of increasing access to films through TV and cheap DVDs.

Encouraging the nation to switch off its TVs, DVD players and games consoles to do something more interesting instead could prove a tough task.