Monday, January 8, 2001
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Posted on: Monday, January 8, 2001

Big-screen ads now showing

By Andrew Gomes
Advertiser Staff Writer

The infiltration of TV-commercial-style ads — for everything from American Express to Volkswagen — is rapidly spreading on movie theater screens around the nation.

But in Hawaii, the trend is developing more slowly amid mixed reaction from moviegoers.

The 35 mm film commercials, some created to resemble movie trailers, first made their appearance in Hawaii about a year ago at two of the three theater chains in the state. Today, one still shows the commercials "on a limited basis," one continues to test the concept, and one continues to hold out.

Hawaii’s largest theater operator, Consolidated Amusement Co., ran an initial 30-day test of the "rolling-stock" ads last December on most of its 100 screens around the state. Consolidated President Phil Shimmin, who was "a little apprehensive about how it would go over," said less than 1 percent of moviegoers have complained to the company.

However, some of the customers who buy more than 7 million Consolidated tickets in Hawaii each year informally expressed disappointment. At one showing of "Croupier" at Consolidated’s Varsity Twins theater, the lights dimmed and the film began rolling. Murmur-level snickering gradually emanated from the audience as they realized what was on screen was not a movie preview but a Nike commercial. Jabbering followed the next advertisement from the U.S. Marine Corps. The crowd erupted with boos at the following McDonald’s commercial.

Since then, Consolidated has separated its ads from movie previews, keeping the lights on and announcing the commercials as part of a "pre-show countdown." At a Consolidated showing of "What Women Want" two weeks ago, the rolling-stock ads were limited to two 30-second spots for Pringles and Circuit City.

Shimmin said the company learned not to create the impression that the rolling-stock ads were movie trailers. "We certainly don’t want to co-mingle it with our coming attractions," he explained. "That’s a different kind of film advertising, and one that is very close to our hearts."

Robert Malo, who was at Consolidated’s Koko Marina theater recently, said he doesn’t mind the filmed commercials. "It’s a new way of advertising," he said. "It’s very creative. Some are very well done ... very powerful."

But moviegoer Alex Gombert said she could do without them. "I find them lame. They’re totally annoying. It’s like I come here to see a movie. I don’t want to see commercials," she said. "You’re paying money to see a movie in a certain environment. You’re not home watching TV."

Some chains hooked

Consolidated has not determined how long this phase of its test will run, and has not contracted to show the ads on a continued basis, Shimmin said. Shimmin said the rolling-stock ads bring in additional revenue from national advertisers, but he could not say how much because the commercials are still in a test phase.

But nationally, some theater chains are being attracted to rolling-stock ads like moths to bright lights, especially in markets where ticket sales have fallen because there are too many theaters.

The National Association of Theater Owners neither tracks the use of rolling-stock ads nor takes a position on showing the commercials. But Laura Adler, marketing vice president for National Cinema Network, one of several companies distributing rolling-stock ads to theater operators across the country, including Consolidated, said use is "rapidly growing."

In the last two years, the number of screens showing rolling-stock ads distributed by National Cinema has increased from about 2,000 to 6,500 out of roughly 33,000 screens around the country.

Wallace testing waters

Screenvision Cinema Network, a rival company that does business with Wallace Theatre Corp. in Hawaii, says its rolling-stock ads have national exposure on 16,500 screens. A Screenvision representative did not return calls for comment. But the company’s Web site said "captive and captivated" theater audiences recall rolling-stock commercials four times as well as TV audiences.

David Lyons, director of marketing for Wallace, which operates 70 screens in Hawaii, said the company shows rolling-stock ads in 75 percent of its 550 screens nationwide. Locally, he said the ads run "in a limited way on a location-by-location basis that is selected by the advertiser."

Hawaii’s third theater operator, Signature Theatres, remains unconvinced that rolling-stock ads make sense for the company.

"It’s just not something that we philosophically believe in doing," said Signature President Phil Harris. "If the right situation came along and we thought it was good for our company and acceptable to our patronage, we’d consider it. But we haven’t seen the right situation yet."

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