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On Advertising in Movies

Have you been to the movies lately and suffered through the half-hour mostly of ads and then coming attractions before the feature film finally appears? On Long Island, indeed across the United States, that has now become the movie-going experience. It’s obnoxious, punishing. And, I’d say, counter-productive for the film industry.

“Movies Have Worst Summer Since 1997” was the headline of the article in the New York Times about the drop in movie theatre attendance this past summer.  The Times said: “American moviegoers sent a clear message to Hollywood over the summer: We are tired of more of the same…The film industry had its worst summer in North America, still the world’s No. 1 movie market, since at least 1997.” The article asked “what separated the few winners,” the films that drew audiences, “from the many losers? For the most part, the winners convinced ticket buyers that they were not just more of the same.”

Is that the issue behind the declining audience at movies—that films aren’t original enough? Is it why there was a reported 4 percent decline in movie theatre attendance overall in 2014 from 2013? Sitting through the five or so coming attractions after the ad blitz is finally done, I must say I never would go to see most of these films—loaded with excessive, gratuitous violence. I think it’s more.
The high price of movie tickets today is, I’m sure, a factor for many people.

But, I’d venture, a key to declining audiences at movie theatres is the endless barrage of ads, national and now local, too.

Couple this with how you can sit at home and watch movies on a giant flat-screen high-definition TV. These include recently released films on HBO, Showtime, Starz/Encore, Cinemax, The Movie Channel and other premium cable TV channels. And there are plenty of good movies on “basic” cable channels, too. For non-cable households, satellite TV systems also offer an abundance of movies. Then there’s booming Netflix. And there’s simply putting a DVD of a film into a player. For any of this movie-watching, you need not deal with ad-after-ad before the film comes on.

Meanwhile, there have been movie theatres closing all over. On Long Island, where I live, it was lights out last year for Babylon Cinemas, a theatre that opened 93 years ago as The Babylon.

Newsday quoted the director of the National Association of Theatre Owners of New York, Robert Sunshine, as attributing the shuttering of the venerable movie house to people wanting “a choice…They want to go to a theater with eight, nine, 10 screens, and amenities to match.” Babylon Cinemas had been reconfigured as “only” a three-screen theater. Commented Jon Taylor, a former president of the Babylon Chamber of Commerce: “It’s another part of vanishing Long Island. It’s a sad thing.”

Ads came slow to movie theatres. First there were a few brief national ads, and then more and more, and longer and longer, and now a torrent of insufferable ads—for products, services and even TV shows.

The chains that own most of the movie theatres don’t want to give up this newfound revenue. “The slew of ads before a movie starts can be one of the most annoying parts of going to the theatre,” Dorothy Pomerantz who covers Hollywood for Forbes.com notes. “But theatre owners have no interest in getting rid of the preshow. That advertising revenue has become an important part of theater chains’ bottom line.”

Hollie McKay, who reports on Hollywood for Fox News, wrote a piece headlined: “Are out-of-control in-theatre commercials driving away moviegoers?” In it, Michael Levine, a media expert in Los Angeles, declares they are. “Movie theatre ads are out of control and history hasn’t been kind to businesses that insult their customers. The experience of going to movie theatres today is, frankly, insulting by the time the film starts. I am annoyed and exhausted.”

There’s a group challenging movie theatre ads called Captive Motion Picture Audience of America. Its website—www.captiveaudience.org—offers offers ways for people to take action.
The companies behind movie ads brag about this captive audience. Says AMC Theatres in its sales pitch on its website: “No remote controls, DVRs or TIVo that help consumers skip your message.” https://prezi.com/t3r7dn6d22rz/movie-theatres/

For me, I far prefer to go to movies that just show movies—no ads. On Long Island, the Sag Harbor Cinema is among the very few with this good policy.

Karl Grossman, professor of journalism at the State University of New York/College of New York, is the author of the book, The Wrong Stuff: The Space’s Program’s Nuclear Threat to Our Planet. Grossman is an associate of the media watch group Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR). He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion.

More articles by:

Karl Grossman, professor of journalism at State University of New York/College at Old Westbury, and is the author of the book, The Wrong Stuff: The Space’s Program’s Nuclear Threat to Our Planet. Grossman is an associate of the media watch group Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR). He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion.

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