It is an all-too-familiar situation. After contending with rising ticket prices, ridiculously expensive snack foods and garrulous audience members, moviegoers must then face their harshest foe yet: the dreaded Fantanas, the women from the soda commercials. While it is undeniable that pre-show advertising at movie theaters has quickly become one of the most loathed aspects of attending films, the trend has been lucrative for theater chains. In fact, in-theater advertisements are on the rise, rapidly expanding by 15 percent each year until at least 2008.
Much like television events such as the Super Bowl, films have developed into highly profitable and coveted venues for high-profile advertising. Also, because the time allotted for ads in movie theaters is limited to slightly more than 20 minutes, fierce competition has arisen among corporations vying for those crucial spots in front of the blockbuster films. In the last year, companies spent more than $400 million exclusively on advertising in movie theaters, an increase of 18 percent.
The growth of this trend is perpetuated by the expansion of digital projectors, which have been emerging over the last few years. Major theater chains spent more than $150 million in the past year to install this specialized equipment, designed for the sole purpose of adding convenience to the process of playing pre-show advertisements. The growing propensity for such devices indicates that advertisements in movie theaters are destined to remain present for years to come, despite declining ticket sales.
Although in-theater ads are often blamed for last year’s record-breaking 7 percent decline in movie attendance, theaters refuse to remove this inconvenience. Facing steep competition from the evolution of home entertainment and the increasing number of drawbacks to the theater experience, the decline in movie theater attendance seems wholly logical. As a result, theater owners are forced to turn to alternate means to continue the flow of revenue.
This is where in-theater ads come in. In order to compensate for the drought in ticket sales, many chains rely on advertising revenue to keep them afloat. The mounting prevalence of these ads has yielded fervent protests from audience members, and as a result of this backlash, some theaters have proclaimed not to include advertising in the films they offer. However, in order to compensate for the revenue lost in declining in-theater advertising, ticket prices are set far higher than standard theaters; some theaters charge $14 per ticket. By this rationale, in-theater advertising seems to be a worthy price to pay for lower-priced tickets.
However, despite the inconvenience of in-theater ads and their continuing presence in movie theaters, some measures are being taken to minimize the irritation and impatience they elicit. For example, in an attempt to provide more satisfying marketing material, the ubiquitous National CineMedia, chief proprietor of in-theater advertising, recently introduced its revamped pre-show titled “First Look,” which presents behind-the-scenes footage on upcoming films and events in a style similar to the special features one would find on a DVD. However, this new format also incorporates commercials between the footage, and since “First Look” is being distributed to all National CineMedia theaters, there is little chance that moviegoers will be able to escape.
Indeed, changes are afoot in the movie theater industry. Regardless, in-theater advertising is destined to remain an integral part of the cinematic experience. In today’s overtly commercialized world, the invasion of such an aesthetically fulfilling environment is hardly surprising. Still, the omnipresence of commercials in movie theaters may only drive the public further away from them, and the dissolution of such an extraordinary experience would truly be disappointing.