Coming Soon To A Theater Near You: Local Digital Ads

Coming soon to a movie theater near you: Digital ads to go with the high-resolution digital motion pictures.

That’s the future envisioned by World Theatre Inc., a North Carolina-based company that has just been granted three patents that gives it rights over the distribution of digital content to movie houses and the direct placement of digital content to electronic billboards. And while the future isn’t here yet, World Theatre is getting ready for it now.

“The patent [No. 6,424,998] covers operating systems that would support the transition of film delivery to exhibitors through digital instead of the physical canisters that have been used forever,” said Robert D. Summer, chairman and CEO of World Theatre.

Most of the nation’s 35,000 movie theaters remain analog, requiring each film to be sent to each cinema. That presents several problems to the industry, including the risk of piracy and damage that lessens the film’s quality for showing. A digital system would allow instantaneous delivery of films to theaters, shutting out pirates, giving cinema operators flexibility in scheduling and offering moviegoers a better experience.

And it would give advertisers an opportunity to reach consumers in a place where few spots have gone before. Advertising has been done at the movie theater for years, but all of the spots have been put on relatively expensive film with little flexibility and accompanied by a string of messages flashing messages from the popcorn stand and coming attractions. But the same system that delivers movies digitally can also be used to deliver digital ads efficiently and cost effectively, Summer said.

“The system would enable delivery of time-bought advertising of the highest quality to targeted film audiences, depending on what’s playing,” Summer said. “What’s playing will produce a different mix. What time it is will produce a different mix.”

World Theatre holds the patent on a distribution system for films, ads and other content but it doesn’t build the technology. Summer said pieces have been built by companies like Texas Instruments, Boeing and Qualcomm. World Theatre plans to run its satellite-delivery system from its center in North Carolina’s Research Triangle.

“It’s the ability to have high-quality, digitally transmitted ads that have the same high quality as the digital movie, and to be able to manage the process,” he said.

Moviehouse operators and Hollywood know digital is coming. The National Association of Theater Operators, a North Hollywood, Calif.-based trade group, is among those calling for a single standard. NATO couldn’t be reached for comment. But Summer said one standard would allow the industry to move forward. Summer, the onetime head of RCA and Sony Entertainment, said the DVD industry didn’t move forward until one standard had been set.

A second patent, 6,430,603, protects a system for the direct placement of advertising on electronic billboards. The system would allow ads to be scheduled in duration, location and times to a network of electronic billboards. Summer said the system allows for outdoor advertising to be sold the same way as radio: Down to the daypart, number of repeats, geographic location and demographic. Imagine a 30-second spot on an electronic billboard that plays as drivers pass on a freeway.

“Our vision is managing the systems enabling the advertising and distribution to wide networks of outdoor signs to introduce flexible and powerful messages visible on a 24-hour basis,” Summer said. A third patent, No. 6,430,605, would allow advertisers like retail store chains, to have ads tied to the point of purchase.

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