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Geo-Targeting On The Silver Screen

With the backing of a new owner, Screenvision plans to bring Beacons to a theater near you.

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Screenvision “Programs”

There’s something magical about viewing a movie in theaters. All attention turned to what’s happening onscreen, it’s like you’re actually there: soaring and sulking through the woods of Forks, Washington with the stars of Twilight or, arguably less favorably, floating in space with Sandra Bullock in Gravity. But while your imagination may be running wild, your body is more or less stationary in a building surrounded by a town or city that’s probably not too far from where you live. Chances are, you’re in your local element.

The cinema ad network Screenvision knows this, and factors such knowledge into its presentations.

Founded over two decades ago, Screenvision produces 22-minute ad-centered entertainment news and highlights program that typically runs in cinemas right before the coming attractions. The company, which was acquired in early May by its larger rival National Cinemedia, has its productions featured on more than 14,000 screens across the U.S, in roughly 2,500 physical theaters. The acquisition, which was done for $375 million, is expected to create a video ad network that will cover nearly all 210 Designated Market Areas across 50 states. The ultimate reach of the combined cinema ad networks can deliver ads to roughly 3,900 theaters, including over 34,000 screens, that could be seen by more than  1.1 billion annual moviegoers. For now, the two brands will remain separate, representatives for Screenvision say, adding that the plans unveiled at its spring upfront will continue as well.

22-Minute Slots

“Our main goal is to produce a show for the audiences that are coming to see the movies, and to sell the advertising that falls within that 22-minute show,” says Jim Tricarico, who was CRO at Screenvision and joined Cross MediaWorks shortly after the National Cinemedia acquisition. “We have content segments, and in between those segments we have ad-pods where we run advertisements.”

How many ads run during Screenvision’s programming depend on the time of year. “It’s somewhere around 7- or 8 minutes of advertising [versus] around 11 minutes during our heaviest months,” says Tricarico.

The heaviest months, also known as the “blockbuster seasons,” are usually June through July, and November through December. “But it’s changing a bit,” says Tricarico, speaking to an emerging trend of box office smashes premiering outside the traditional blockbuster window, like 2014’s Captain America: Winter Soldier, which hit theatres in April and nabbed more than $95 million opening weekend.

Sizing Up the Audience

Screenvision appeals to media buyers for big national brands like Kmart, Target, Macy’s, and Walmart (the list goes on) that pour ad dollars into various channels including TV and digital. The ability to blast ads on the big screen helps the brand’s message reach a mass audience, and ­not just any mass audience, but the one that most closely fits the bill of what it’s selling.

“The nice thing about cinema is the fact that [clients] can pick the ratings that they want to advertise in,” Tricarico says. “If they don’t want R-rated movies and they don’t want G-rated movies, they run in PG and PG-13.”

A Screenvision client can also choose pick the film genre. An ad for Slim Jim, which peddles its beef jerky products in loud, masculine tones, might run before an action flick, whereas an ad for something more traditionally feminine, like face-lifting cream by Dove might air ahead of a rom-com with a female lead. Alas, gender stereotypes still reign strong in these marketing tactics.

Regional Capabilities

Screenvision enables brands to target audiences according to geographic and demographic standards. Says Tricarico: “We can target cinema regionally, as well as anti-target a geographic area. We can help [a client] home in on men in an area by targeting them both from a specific movie title and a specific geographic location.”

How local a brand wants to get is really up to the brand. If a company has brick and mortar locations across the U.S, it has incentive to blast its ads in as many theatres as possible; whereas a Mom and Pop shop, or a chain with just a handful of locations on one coast would likely have a more limited scope.

“We can run an ad from just one theater to all 14,000-plus,” Tricarico says.

A Lot Like TV

In many ways, Screenvision operates like a niche cable television network. Noting the similarities Tricarico, a self-described “long-time TV person,” suggests that Screenvision’s efforts go hand in hand with those of television.

“TV’s strength is Monday through Thursday, while on Friday and Saturday night, those levels go down,” Tricarico says, adding that conversely, on Friday and Saturday night cinema’s strength goes up. “We call it our ‘Weekend Daypart,” Tricarico says.

John McCauley, SVP Strategic Alliances at Screenvision, notes that up until just 2 years ago, cinema as an advertising platform was treated more as a “specialty video item.” He credits Tricarico for getting the company to “think and act more like television,” a move that has helped the brand better fit in the greater puzzle of advertising.

Picking Up Sound 

Screenvision may not be looking to step on television networks’ toes, but it is looking to extend its profile as a complementary advertising format to major media with more geo-targeting capabilities. Among the efforts it’s making in this area lies in its partnership with Soundhound, a provider of sound recognition technology that is considered a challenger to the similar Shazam. It’s all part of a two-pronged effort to take better advantage of interactivity.

Tricarico says that Screenvision is in talks with “two or three companies” as it looks to start implementing Beacon technology, which allows businesses to transmit messages to consumers’ mobile devices in an enclosed space like a cinema or a store through a Bluetooth signal.

From Screen To Lobby

Screenvision plans to place Beacons in theater lobbies as a way of connecting the ads it projects in front of seated cinema audiences. The addition of Soundhound could go along way toward achieving that. While rival audio recognition app Shazam claims 420 million global users (with roughly 100 million active users in the US), it has mainly focused its marketing abilities as a complement to television advertising.

That has left cinema advertising largely wide open. Soundhound, whose app has been downloaded 200 million times worldwide, looks to be growing. The partnership between the two could help promote the app’s growth as well the cinema network’s revenues.

With the interactive connection solidified in the actual theater, Screenvision is preparing to fix its view somewhere between the box office and the concession stand. Introducing Beacons into theater lobbies will create a “frictionless” experience between advertisers and filmgoers by ensuring that marketing messages reach their target anywhere throughout the cineplex.

“We hope to have something like that [in place] in the next couple of months,” McCauley says.