At The Movies: Nielsen Develops Market Currency For Cinema Ads

In a development that could provide an impetus for the burgeoning cinema advertising marketplace, Nielsen Media Research Wednesday unveiled Nielsen Cinema, a new unit that intends to do for in-theater advertising what earlier Nielsen syndicated ratings reports did for the TV industry - provide context and continuity for advertising marketplace transactions.

Unlike custom studies commissioned by other TV-like media platforms, including CNN Airport Network, Primedia's schoolroom-based Channel One network and Captivate's place-based elevator network, the service will provide the same kind of regular syndicated audience ratings for the major cinema advertising networks that Nielsen provides for the major TV networks.

In effect, the new syndicated service, which will generate TV-like pocketpieces, is the first new syndicated audience ratings service since Nielsen launched its ratings indexes for cable, syndication and Hispanic TV.

But at a time when Madison Avenue has been clamoring to shift from program ratings to commercial ratings, the new Nielsen Cinema service ironically is adhering to the TV industry convention of program ratings - or at least their equivalent.

"We're measuring the attendance at the theaters where the ads are shown, but it is not a commercial audience per se," acknowledges Paul Lindstrom, senior vice president of Nielsen Cinema, "It is the equivalent of the program audience rating in television."

Nielsen Cinema's audience ratings are collected through a random phone survey of at least 500 moviegoers from the past week's movie audience. Nielsen Entertainment develops the audience attendance estimates through a model that combines theater box office gross and ticket price information, as well as historical data.

In reality, Nielsen's cinema audience data are derived directly from actual box office receipts data. The telephone surveys are used to establish demographic information for the types of individuals that attended those theaters and theoretically were exposed to ads being shown there.

The service is being funded by the three largest sellers of on-screen advertising, National Cinema Network Regal CineMedia and Screenvision, which have signed multi-year agreements with Nielsen for the service. Together, they sell the spot advertising for more than 25,000 screens, covering 95% of all ad-supported U.S theaters.

While cinema advertising is still a relatively young ad medium in the U.S., it is considered a major advertising media in other markets, especially Western Europe, where it deemed an integral part of the media mix. It is expected to accelerate in the U.S., especially as the ad industry grows concerned by the clutter of TV advertising and new technologies that may make it increasingly difficult to engage viewers in TV advertising.

Interestingly, initial findings of the Nielsen Cinema reports reveal that Screenvision is by far the dominant player in the field with a monthly audience composition of 50.6 million movie attendees in its June 2003 (May 2-June 26) report, about equal the attendee sum of both NCN (25.9 million) and Regal (25.0 million).

The reports also convert those gross audience figures into another TV-like convention, "gross cinema points," which are akin to TV's gross rating points. As with TV, the points can be tabulated via key demographics, but unlike TV they can also be grouped by age appropriate ratings using the movie industry's audience rating system.

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