DVRs shaking up movie marketing

Ad strategies evolve to deal with 'time-shifting' TV viewers

Movie marketers -- who devote as much as 70% of their budgets to TV advertising -- might be fighting a losing battle as a record amount of viewers time-shifted their viewing, potentially skipping their ads. A recent study for cable giant Comcast found that 62% of respondents reported using DVRs, online sites like Hulu, or VOD.

So how's a marketer supposed to fill opening weekend seats?

While no one predicts the end of film ads on TV -- strong visuals still attract attention on the small screen -- time-shifting is one reason why film-marketing dollars have increasingly flown to the Internet in search of real "engagement" in a fragmented media world. Plus, it has led to innovative attempts to use DVRs as a device of marketing rather than disruption.

Greg Kahn, executive vp business development director at media agency Optimedia, estimates that the Web portion of film-ad budgets has doubled to about 10% during the past five years. "I expect the digital component of movies' media budgets to increase further," he said.

For some, the response isn't coming fast enough.

"What TV was in the 1980s the Internet is now," says Peter Sealey, marketing strategy expert and CEO of the Sausalito Group, as well as a former president of marketing at Columbia. "The time spent by many in the core 18-24 movie audience on Facebook is higher than on TV. You've got to follow these eyeballs." He predicts this fall TV season might bring "a diminished role of high-profile movie spots" on TV.

The rise of the DVR means movie marketers might want to buy at least some TV spots to run earlier in their cycle than in the past. Most time-shifters watch their shows within three days of the original airtime, but that window can mean disaster for ads that run just before opening weekend.

"Movies are a very time-sensitive business," said Steve Farella, chairman and CEO of media agency TargetCast tcm. "If people time-shift, once they see the ad, it may be too late." So, the times when heavy Thursday night TV marketing alone was enough are over.

Paul Lauer, CEO of grassroots marketing firm Motive Marketing, specializes in identifying and engaging target audiences with a real interest and investment in a film -- usually months ahead of its release. He has worked on grassroots campaigns, which engage opinion leaders via direct interactions, YouTube trailers, Facebook apps and more, for "The Chronicles of Narnia" movies and others.

Lauer has calculated that the average studio marketing campaign costs roughly $4 per person who ends up in a movie theater. For grassroots campaigns, he said that cost can be as low as 20 cents-$2. So Lauer is trying to get the studios he works with to spend a higher-than-usual 2%-5% of their ad budget on such alternative methods.

His latest promotional hit is a YouTube video for the fall release of "I Want Your Money," which during its first two weeks was seen by about 800,000 and got more than 3,400 comments. The controversial political film about the increasing U.S. budget deficit also has an iPhone app that allows users to contact elected officials to make themselves heard.

Jordan Glazier, CEO of digital media firm Eventful, has had success with digital-engagement campaigns for such movies as Paramount's "Paranormal Activity" and Universal's "Get Him to the Greek."

Eventful's Demand It! platform allowed people to vote on whether "Paranormal" should get a national release; the 1 million-votes target was reached within days. Similarly, "Greek" used Eventful voting to decide which five college campuses would get free screenings with star appearances. Users who didn't get to see the film got follow-up e-mails with links to places that sold film tickets.

"We managed to create broad awareness, even though our partners had only limited (outlays)," said Glazier, noting that, "Consumers, particularly young ones that are the target of entertainment providers, have very strong filters against advertising."

Despite the new marketing strategies, media buyers and marketers said ad habits are hard to break, and TV ads might not be as obsolete as the Comcast study seems to suggest.

Nielsen found that time-shifted TV consumption during the first quarter amounted to 9 hours and 36 minutes per month on average, up nearly 15% compared with the year-ago period. But that was still less than 10% of the 158 hours and 25 minutes of time spent on regular TV viewing.

Those that do their research can avoid disappointments. For example, "sports and news are rarely shifted," making them safe havens for marketers, Farella said.

Similarly, Rob Aksman, a co-founder of advanced TV marketing firm Brightline ITV, said his team tells marketers to focus on targeting the audience of a TV show in more ways than 30 second spots. "We use messages in channel guides, on the DVR end screen and on VOD" to reach more people, he said. "If done right, this is very successful."

The best-known DVR producer, TiVo, has during recent years promoted special solutions to studios, offering ad placements throughout its DVR pages and features.

"Most categories of ads perform very well on TiVo if you are offering convenience, entertainment" or added value, said Tara Maitra, vp and GM content services and ad sales at TiVo. "If you drive them to a more emersive ad experience of 2-3 minutes, people often view it more as an extra feature." (And viewers can move on to buy tickets through TiVo's Fandango application).

Peter Sealey assigned his MBA students at Claremont Graduate University this year to draw up a marketing plan for Sony's upcoming "Green Hornet."

"If they show me a TV-centric campaign, grades won't be that good," he said.
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