Sunday, January 8, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Hate all that stuff before the movie begins?

New York Daily News

NEW YORK — Coming to a movie theater near you: Show-biz gossip, juicy news tidbits and TV-show previews — all from E! Entertainment Television.

Think going to the movies is just for watching flicks? Think again.

Screenvision — the movie-advertising company that has some fans grousing about being bombarded with commercials in the theater — is about to shake up screens once again.

New York-based Screenvision has inked a deal with cable network E! to spruce up its before-the-movie, "pre-show," due in theaters by the end of the year.

Instead of just running big screen ads — like Robert De Niro's American Express spot or the Hummer commercial featuring modern dancers with chairs — Screenvision's adding snappy entertainment features, like E!'s gossipy "The Soup," in between the spots.

The goal is to keep fans tuning in. Screenvision's main rival, National CineMedia, is doing much the same with its own 20-minute package of showbiz pieces that run before the previews at theater chains like AMC.

"If we provide a better show, consumers will be more entertained and they will pay more attention," Screenvision CEO Matthew Kearney told the New York Daily News.

The advertising phenomenon is ringing up big dollars for movie-theater chains. Some 27,000 movie screens have gone commercial in just the last few years and more are on the way.

In 2004, on-screen advertising revenues grew 20 percent to $438 million, as blue-chip advertisers like M&M's, Revlon and Gillette signed on. With demand growing, ad rates are rising 10 percent a year, Kearney said.

Cinema advertising started in the early 1900s during the rise of the movie biz. Ads that look like TV commercials — as opposed to static ad slides — started up in the 1980s, with advertisers like Pepsi.

While the trend took off in Europe, it never really gathered steam here as theaters were afraid of upsetting moviegoers.

But theater chains became much more receptive to tapping advertisers after falling on hard times financially in recent years.

The commercials are having a big impact on consumers, Screenvision claims. According to its own research, moviegoers who watch commercials at the movies are 44 percent more likely to remember them than those who saw them on the small screen at home.

Advertisers are creating eye-popping spots that seek to capitalize on the huge screen and the pumping Dolby sound.

That was Gillette's goal with a commercial for Oral B that hit theaters over the Fourth of July weekend. The ad for the Pulsar toothbrush showed nature close-ups like a dove's wings beating.

"If we intrude on consumers during their cinema time, we better entertain them," said Gillette spokeswoman Michele Szynal.

But even with the cooler spots, many moviegoers are still angry. They don't want to be bombarded with ads after they've paid $10.75 or more for a movie ticket.

Some movie-industry insiders say the rise of ads in movie theaters has played a role in this past summer's disappointing box office.

"Consumers don't like it," said Paul Dergarabedian, president of box-office tracker Exhibitor Relations. "I saw the Oral B commercial. That just blew my mind. I asked myself, 'Am I watching TV? Where am I?' "

Screenvision's Kearney counters that the reports of fuming fans are overblown. "The reality is the number of complaints is extremely low," he said.

And Screenvision shows no sign of backing off. The company has invested $50 million to install its own high-definition digital-cinema technology in theaters to carry its pre-show entertainment package.

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company


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