Not so long ago, the UK’s two cinema sales houses were involved in
a feud of Godfather-like proportions.
Stories about the bad blood between Pearl & Dean and its bigger rival,
Carlton, are legion.
Until its takeover by Scottish Media Group for pounds 22.2 million
earlier this year, Pearl & Dean was headed by the larger-than-life Peter
Howard-Williams, frequently referred to as Mr Cinema and as famous for
his unrepentantly flamboyant lifestyle as his pivotal role in the
Legend has it that shortly after Howard-Williams joined Pearl & Dean
from the then Rank Screen Advertising (now Carlton), a wreath arrived at
his new offices. Nobody knew where it came from - but they could
After this year’s takeover, Howard-Williams was replaced by Christine
Costello, formerly SMG’s newspapers commercial director. Surprisingly,
there appears to be little enmity between her and Carlton Screen
Advertising’s managing director Debbie Chalet.
In an unprecedented move, the two great rivals have been working
together to find a replacement for Barclays, which had been the official
sponsor of UK cinema. The pounds 10 million, two-year deal was put
together by All Industry Marketing for Cinema (AIM), an alliance of
cinema operators and movie distributors. The package gives the sponsor a
presence at the start and end of trailers.
Chalet confirms: ’Christine and I have been out and done client
presentations, which is a first. It caused quite a stir, us sitting in
We’ll always compete on costs, but it’s ridiculous not to work together
to increase the size of the cinema advertising cake.’
Of course, the past rivalry between the two sales houses may well have
been hyped out of all proportion. That’s only fitting for an industry
built on hype. Let’s face it, even before it opened, we all knew that
The Matrix was all about incredible effects (as opposed to acting or
We were well aware that the fourth film in the Star Wars series was
actually the first ’episode’. And even if you don’t get out much, you
probably know that The Blair Witch Project is a cult success in the
Fortunately for advertisers, all this hype means plenty of people go out
a lot - and it’s usually to the movies. Back in 1988 there were 78
million cinema admissions. Last year there were 135 million.
Event movies like The Phantom Menace have played their part in driving
up attendances, but so has the improved quality of the cinema
This has been led by the spread of multiplexes, which usually come
equipped with good parking and retail facilities. Multiplexes account
for over half the screens in the UK and 60 per cent of all
And there’s still room for more. The UK still only has four screens per
100,000 people, compared with 11.8 per 100,000 in the US. Multiplexes
will continue sprouting up in new locations. An estimated pounds 600
million will be spent by exhibitors (industry speak for cinema chains)
in the next four years. Another projection has it that by the end of
next year there will be 3,200 screens in the UK, up from 1,366 in
Yet despite this growth, cinema remains a relatively small advertising
medium. Last year it attracted ad revenue of pounds 97 million, just 1.1
per cent of all media spend.
The market is split between Carlton and Pearl & Dean on a roughly 70-30
basis. It seems unlikely that the long-standing duopoly will be
challenged in the near future. However, there is one possible contender
waiting in the wings.
In the summer, Australian exhibitor Hoyts opened its first UK site at
the Bluewater retail park. Its sales agent Val Morgan decided not to set
up a full-blown UK operation on the back of such a minimal presence,
preferring to work with Pearl & Dean. However, should Hoyts expand
significantly in the UK, it is conceivable that Val Morgan could enter
’If Hoyts was to suddenly build 10 more cinemas it’s possible that Val
Morgan might start building a UK sales team of its own. That would be an
enormous change in the market’s dynamic,’ says Carlton’s managing
director Debbie Chalet.
For the moment, though, it is just the two. According to Laura Dedman,
media planning manager at Initiative Media, who plans and buys a
significant amount of cinema for a number of Unilever brands, there are
differences of style between them.
She says: ’Things may change with its new owner, but in the past Pearl &
Dean was the less dynamic. Although it can be very accommodating with
ideas, Carlton is quite rigid, which has maybe filtered through from the
TV side. But it’s quite aggressive in the way it chases business,
frequently getting in touch to find out what’s happening with a brand.’
PEARL & DEAN
There can’t be many people who would not instantly recognise the Pearl &
Dean theme tune, containing as it does more pa-pas than a complete
retrospective of Renault Clio commercials. But from having been the
dominant player in the market, Pearl & Dean went from pa-pas to faux
At one point, its share of the cinema advertising business plunged to
below 10 per cent. Thankfully, recent times have seen a turnaround in
its fortunes. Market share has risen 400 per cent over the past six
years and Pearl & Dean now accounts for almost a third of the revenue in
the sector - no longer a distant second place to Carlton.
On 7 June this year the company was bought by Scottish Media Group for
pounds 22.2 million. SMG immediately moved Christine Costello,
previously the commercial director of its newspaper business, into the
managing director’s chair.
’SMG has sales expertise in TV, newspapers and outdoor, so we can share
information and ideas,’ says Costello. ’The thing about cinema is its
growth - it’s been growing even faster than radio. Do people know
I don’t think they do. So we’ve got to shout about it.
’Looking forward, not every medium is faced with such a rosy picture. We
and Carlton can push the medium forward. And there’s lots of good film
product coming out in 2000.’
Unlike Carlton, Pearl & Dean does not have a dedicated client sales
Instead, under highly experienced national sales director Craig Harris,
there is a ’lean’ team of nine bringing in national business from
agencies and clients alike, plus a local sales force of six.
The company has contracts with exhibitors such as Showcase, Cine-UK,
Apollo and the rapidly expanding Warner Village, which has 222 screens
but aims to double that by the end of the year.
Pearl & Dean was formed in 1953, when it landed the contract to sell
advertising for over 400 ABC screens. Its brand heritage still opens
Says Costello: ’There’s lots of emotion tied up with Pearl & Dean . We
are seen as people who know about cinema.’
Like Carlton, Pearl & Dean has developed a number of packages allowing
advertisers to reach specific audiences. They include a children’s
package that enables advertisers to target children and parents - a
strong proposition, given that families make many purchasing decisions
together. There is even a package of Bollywood movies for buyers
attempting to target the Asian audience.
Another sales tactic is to stress the memorability of cinema advertising
- big screen equals big impact. Additionally, regular cinema-goers tend
to be ’early adopters’, a much-prized category.
As cinema advertising is a growing market with only two sales houses,
the rivalry between Pearl & Dean and Carlton is serious but no longer
cutthroat. In any case, most national advertisers book campaigns that
run on screens represented by both. Still, there’s no doubt that Pearl &
Dean would like to close the gap between the two even further.
CARLTON SCREEN ADVERTISING
’It’s an odd business,’ admits Carlton Screen Advertising managing
director Debbie Chalet as we chat in her Golden Square office. ’You
don’t have control of movies or own the cinemas. And you are trying to
keep two sets of clients happy: the cinema owners and the
What also appears odd to those outside the cinema advertising market is
that there are just two sales operations. It is a market dynamic that
has remained more or less unchanged since the early days of cinema
advertising in this country.
Carlton is the clear leader in the field, with about 70 per cent of the
It has contracts to sell advertising for major exhibitors (called
circuits in industry parlance) Odeon, Virgin, UCI, ABC and Oasis. It
also represents a welter of smaller players.
Chalet has a TV background, having worked for Carlton, Granada and
She was promoted to sales director, following the departure of Adam
Poulter to launch Carlton’s cinema advertising operation in the US.
Carlton acquired the UK business that had once been Rank Screen
Advertising - remember the man banging the gong? - in 1996 from venture
capitalist Schroders, which had briefly renamed the operation Cinema
Media. From the outset, it was clear to Poulter and Chalet that cinema
was an under-exploited medium.
’For a start, we didn’t have a client team,’ says Chalet. ’So it’s
hardly surprising that clients weren’t spending consistently on cinema -
they never saw anyone trying to sell it to them.’
Today, Chalet has a six-strong client sales team. Additionally, there is
an agency team of 13 and a regional sales operation of four, working
alongside representative agency Medialink.
Two years ago Carlton also had a direct sales team of 22 that
specialised in selling cinema advertising to local businesses. This team
has now been pared down to seven in recognition of the fact that
national advertising is far more lucrative and desirable to put on
screen. Moreover, Carlton no longer accepts local advertising on 35mm
film, restricting it to slides.
’When we bought the business it jarred with me,’ recalls Chalet. ’So now
we don’t sell moving image to the local advertisers at all. You’ll no
longer see the hideous curry ads of yesteryear as parodied by
In the past, Chalet admits, cinema advertising was often sold on the
basis of it being ’sexy and interesting’. She adds: ’These are still
good sells, but we need to support it with a few more reasons.’
In essence, this means offering different kinds of buy - for example,
segmenting groups of films to provide better targeting.
As well as guaranteed admissions packages, buyers can opt for a screen-
by-screen choice enabling them to target geographical areas, packages
for reaching arthouse or family audiences, or the option of running
their ad with specific movies. Carlton also sells foyer promotions, such
as internet company AOL’s cross-promotion with the movie You’ve Got
Carlton also owns production and distribution operation NSS, giving it a
relationship with the movie makers. In the US it is investing in digital
distribution, which over the next five to 10 years will revolutionise
cinema advertising, doing away with the costly need to make prints for
each screen. And through the development of its Technicolor
Entertainment brand in the US and further afield, Carlton will soon be
in the position to offer an international cinema buy.