The pre-movie ads go on, and on... -

The pre-movie ads go on, and on…

As Cineplex Inc. posts its best-ever financial results, movie theatres should start the show on time

The pre-show must go on, and on...

Andrey Rudakov/Getty Images

You’ve paid your $10 or $12 admission. Endured the lineup for overpriced concessions. Negotiated your way into the theatre and settled into your seats. It’s 7:39 p.m. and the movie begins at 7:40 p.m. Just in time! Well, not exactly.

As every movie fan knows, the show is still a long way from getting started. Before you can see the movie you paid for, you’ll need to watch some ads: a lot of ads.

Captive movie theatre audiences must now endure 15 minutes or more of bank, car, soft drink, wireless and other assorted commercials plus a half-dozen coming attractions stretching well after the posted start time. Quite often the theatre will slip in a few of its own promos as well, touting the power of its sound system or the magic of cinema. But of course we already knew about that; we just paid good money for a magical experience. Is it too much to ask that the movie start when scheduled?

Last week Canada’s largest cinema chain, Cineplex Inc., announced its best-ever financial results. While movie attendance has been healthy, the star of the show for the firm right now is “media revenues,” which mainly consist of selling ads before movies. At $26 million?an improvement of 45 per cent over the previous year’s figures?Cineplex’s profit for the quarter was almost entirely from ad sales.

Across North America, pre-show movie ads have become a gold mine. In the U.S., it’s a $600 million-a-year business, with an average annual growth rate of 15 per cent. Selling pre-movie ads now rivals the more than 350 per cent markup on concession sales as the most lucrative aspect of the movie theatre business.

The attraction, of course, lies in showing ads to folks who have no choice but to watch. “With showtime advertising, there’s no channel switching, no commercial zapping, no multi-tasking distractions like phone calls or Internet surfing,” Cineplex boasts to ad buyers. “Audiences are focused on the screen, fully engaged in the cinema experience.” Better yet, these hostages have paid to be there. And movie theatre audiences are conveniently pre-sorted into family, teen and adult markets. (Admittedly Maclean’s also sells advertising, but we don’t force anyone to look at the ads before reading our stories.)

The time prior to a movie’s start once consisted of a few coming attractions and a cartoon. In olden days, it was a newsreel or two. Today the 21-minute pre-show is broken down into two advertising segments, each sold separately. After that comes the most desirable chunk of real estate: the 15 or 20 minutes when the movie should actually be playing. While we accept watching a few minutes of ads to see a free video on the Internet, paying to see a movie and being forced to watch ads seems to be both an insult and a waste of time. We pay more while our quality viewing time shrinks.

Moviegoers who value their time have made some brave attempts at fighting back. A few years ago a Chicago movie fan tried to sue her local cinema for “breach of contract.” A petition was started. So was a class action lawsuit. And in 2005 a Connecticut lawmaker proposed a bill that would have required movie theatres to post accurate movie start times. None of these efforts got past the initial pitch.

Others have tried to adapt to the new reality by timing their arrival to avoid the ads. Unfortunately, by this point the lights have already gone down and everyone else is seated. Toes gets stepped on and popcorn gets spilled. Skipping the ads can be as inconvenient to the rest of the audience as the ads themselves.

Certainly trailers are often as entertaining as the movies they promote, not to mention cheaper. And not everyone seems to object to idea of movie theatre ads. A 2003 survey by U.S. research group Arbitron, widely praised by cinema owners, claims two-thirds of moviegoers agree with the statement: “I don’t mind the advertisements they put on before the movie begins.” Half say they find movie theatre ads more interesting than television ads. It’s not exactly a ringing endorsement, however; presumably the other half agrees with the opposite statement. Besides, anyone who really enjoys paying for ads can simply show up 21 minutes early and watch to their heart’s content.

We are now bombarded by advertisements from all sides and at all times: from subways and gas pumps to email inboxes and cellphone screens. Let’s not ruin our two escapist hours in the movie theatre with another 20 minutes of ads. How about starting the show on time?


The pre-movie ads go on, and on…

  1. I don’t go to the theatre(too noisy, too crowded and over priced), and yet, as a child I spent one day a weekend attending the theatre while my grandparents shopped. I am a movie buff and always will be, until my last day. When I hear stories like this it makes me never want to go to the theatre again. I even have a free pass to the above mentioned theatre and have been reluctant to use it.
    Now I never will.

  2. I know this much: there is a special realm in hell reserved for whoever started the trend of showing car commercials in the cinema before the movie starts. Show me a petition to have this stopped, and I’ll sign it. Give me a pin to wear and I’ll wear it. Set up a picket line in front of a theatre room, and I wont cross it. That is actually not a bad idea. I say everyone should wait outside their respective theatre rooms at the cineplex and enter the room only after the commercials are finished.

  3. See a lot of movies…the ads can run but i am not paying much attention either drinkin’ pop or eating popcorn and not buying what is selling…

  4. This is why movies theaters are now serving beer….maybe we can replace car with beer commercials.

  5. If you don’t like the ads, don’t patronize the theatre. Complaining about it and then going anyway is just stupid and a complete waste of time.

    • Movie Theater managers are an onerous lot for sure, however, the real problem is the greed of movie makers (and movie stars). They make it impossible for theaters to make money without resorting the endless ads and previews (not to mention product placements). Renting, streaming, college theaters etc. are the way to go. I stay far away from commercial theaters and don’t miss them. I vote with my dollars.

  6. Commercials are a pain in the butt, period. We get saturated with advertising all through our lives. After paying almost thirty bucks for me and my lady to see a new flick at the show why should we be inundated with ads that almost deafen you before the movie previews (which do the same thing)? Aren’t the theatres making enough money from ticket sales AND from the mega-corp studios that are paying to promote up-coming movies?

    • Though I agree with you, apparently theatre owners do not.

  7. Amen. I can handle two or three minutes of commercials but 20 minutes is outrageous. I guess Cineplex figures that as long as people are still going, it indicates that they’re willing to endure it.
    I have personally cut back on my visits for this exact reason.

  8. It wasn’t all that long ago that an audience would boo en masse when an ad preceded the program they had paid to see.

  9. Coming attractions are fine .the rest is not

  10. Cineplex profit was almost entirely from advetising. Without profit companies close or raise prices. This is the new reality now that many people have home systems that can rival a theatre. If a few adds means the theatres can afford better seats an nice ammenities than so be it. We plan a night at the movies so 20 minutes sitting in a plush seat sure beats sitting in traffic.

  11. Just show up 20 minutes late. You won’t be ‘stepping on toes’. There is usually less than half the seats filled if that! Movie theaters are yesterdays news.

  12. The ads suck but theaters can’t survive without them. Ads are the only growth area for the business.

  13. Ad revenue is the only thing keeping movie theatres profitable – they’re here to stay so we ought to get used to it. Allowing the movie-going public to skip the ads would reduce the revenues that keep the theatre alive. However, I’m betting Cineplex could afford to reduce the price of admission by $1 per ticket because of that ad revenue. Make it more affordable for us to go to the movies, even by just $1 a ticket, and I’ll gladly sit through the ads. Cineplex advertises that they’re lowering prices a smidge, demonstrating a token attempt to compensate customers for being asked to sit through those ads, and more people will go to the theatre, creating a larger target audience for their advertisers and allowing them to raise the ad rates so they continue to profit. That makes more sense than asking them to do away with the only profitable part of their business.

  14. I don’t see this as such a big deal so long as the ads are confined to the run-up to the feature. With many even movies now clocking in at over 2.5 hours, however, I wouldn’t be amazed if they tried to revive intermissions, and then all bets are off!
    As for toe-stepping and so on, it’s usually either not that big a deal finding a seat when walking in during the ads or even the trailers. Heck, many theatres now even have a few screens with assigned seating in case you’re planning ahead and want a sure thing.
    Lastly, as far as I’m concerned the usual ethical considerations of styaing off your phone or carrying on a conversation with the person(s) you are accompanying do not apply for cheesy ads- I pity the person who ever tries to shush me during yet another tedious wireless provider ad!

  15. Two months ago we were in the US and with extra time on our hands went to a Warren Theatreplex. About 8 movies playing, can’t recall. To our surprise and pleasure, the complex had a full restaurant and bar/lounge and full service snack bar. The prices were all considerably less than in Canada and the food was also better.
    More surprisingly, the ads were only about 10min and the sound volume was loud/normal. All very unlike here where the ads go on for 20min, the food is way overpriced, the sound volume completely out of control, etc, etc. if anything, Id say the excessive sound volume in Canadian theatres is what keeps us down to about 1 movie a year. The overpricing and crap food is simply a Canadian tradition so we put up with it.

  16. This makes it seem only fair that, when you pay even more for the DVD than a theater seat, the commercials are even longer.