Media: Forum - Can the cinema market sustain its momentum?/Last year saw another set of record results from the cinema medium. Every year the audience figures and advertising revenue seems to be getting better and better. But can the medium maintain this

Cinema’s top advertising category in 1999 was food, according to figures published last week. Surprising? 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 McDonald’s.

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

figures published last week. Surprising? 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 McDonald’s.

More surprising, perhaps, is the appearance of cars at number four on

the table, courtesy of a doubling in spend year on year. Or 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 contemplating the purchase of 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 by more than 40 per cent to

pounds 12.5 million - perhaps proving once and for all that these

advertisers were only there previously when they couldn’t get access to


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

for the medium. In 1999, cinema amassed its highest advertising revenue,

was the fastest growing medium (according to MMS figures), recorded its

biggest box office weekend and chalked up its highest yearly admissions

total since 1960.

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 that Hollywood is only part of the story. She states: ’Of course

we’ve always been reliant on the Hollywood product but we’ve recorded

audience growth in all but one of the last ten years. That is actually

continuing to accelerate. Exhibitors have also been better at marketing

the products they have. But on the sales side, we have also 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. For instance, we now provide packages and

pricing structures for advertisers targeting adults with children. In

the past we have been disincentivising against this group.’

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

and research and says that 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 that the medium’s critics on the buying side point to.

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

percentages look good but it’s starting from a low base, they say. And

its new converts, especially FMCG advertisers, are using it as an

incremental medium - a top-up for TV campaigns.

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

of Motive Communications. He comments: ’Cinema really does have to 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 a great


The question about the audience numbers is: at what time do people come

in during the screening? They have to research this. Other media have to

confront issues like this. 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, for example,

lead to more flexible distribution of copy.’

Do others agree? Robert Ray, the joint managing director of MediaVest,

counters Jacob’s doubts about the medium’s weakness in adding value.

’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 that 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 hit British films. There’s also a better

environment, especially in the multiplexes, that companies such as

Virgin have continued to build.’

Hilary Taylor, a director of Manning Gottlieb Media, reveals that she is

a big cinema fan: ’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. So I’d say that 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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