With Cinema continuing to be a vibrant and vital medium as robust attendance, compelling industry innovations and with growing advertising sales, this month, we welcome back John Partilla, CEO of Screenvision Media, New York. We first interviewed John back in April, 2016.
- It’s been three years since your last CEO Spotlight. At that time, Screenvision Media had 14,300 screens in 2,300 theatres across the U.S. Please bring us up to date. Has it expanded greatly? Added theatre companies? Screens?We’ve seen some very exciting growth in the last three years. Our network currently consists of over 15,000 screens in 2,300 theatres across all 50 states and 94% of DMAs nationwide. We now represent eight of the top 10 exhibitor companies.
Most importantly, we’ve strengthened our relationships with core exhibitors through new partnerships and changes to our inventory placement. We continue to strategically and judiciously grow our network, continually looking for new ways to enhance the customer preshow experience and drive improved economics for our exhibitor partners.
- Have you yet moved beyond the U.S. or have any plans to do so? Why or why not? And are there any thoughts of expanding beyond theatre advertising?For now, we’re still operating solely in the U.S. That being said, some of our partners have international operations. There’s a very strong and robust cinema marketplace worldwide. International expansion would have to come at a measured pace for us.
As for going beyond the theatre, we are pursuing digital and mobile efforts that keep us in conversation with our movie goers after the movie ends. We are fortunate to connect with people over something that truly inspires passion: the movies! And because we have that expertise in monetizing passionate enthusiasts, we will thoughtfully consider expanding our core competencies into related passionate audience adjacencies.
- There’s been a lot of press regarding how theatres are changing and adding to their services to, eg. attract millennials out for ‘date night’. Is that trend proceeding quickly? In theatres where this has been done, how much of an upswing has there been in ticket sales? And is this trend turning off young families’ attendance?We’re really excited about what our theatre partners are doing to advance the industry and improve the movie going experience for everyone. Comforts like luxury recliners, dine-in theatres and bars have driven increases not only in movie-goer satisfaction but attendance across all age groups. We haven’t seen a fall off in family attendance at all, quite the opposite when you look at the strong family film performance from Disney, in particular. We’re seeing people coming to our theatres more often, arriving earlier for food and drinks and often getting to their seats earlier.
- Prices of theatre tickets combined with requests for popcorn and other treats are making it harder for parents to take their families out for a treat. How do the parents view these huge upgrades to attract the millennials?Again, the proof is in the ticket sales, which grew 5.8% year-over-year in 2018. Going to the movies is still one of the most affordable pastimes for a family. The average ticket price for a family of four is $36. That’s far lower than tickets to an NFL game (over $400), NHL ($265), NBA ($230) MLB ($130) Theme Park ($250). Heck, even a few games of bowling would cost that family more than $75. Cinema is the real American pastime. And the numbers don’t lie – cinema sold more than 1.3 billion tickets last year, more than double the major sports leagues and theme parks combined. The movies continue to stand the test of time as the best way to spend an afternoon or night out.
- Screenvision seems to be getting record revenue years. Do you have new figures coming out soon? What’s the latest, perhaps in comparison to three years ago?It’s been an incredible few years, for sure, which is a testament to our hard-charging, business outcome-oriented, best-in-class sales team. Over the last three years, our top line revenue growth has exceeded 30% in aggregate and profits have doubled. Cinema continues to deliver attractive demos that are harder to find on TV. Advertisers see our offering as a more compelling and essential solution in the media marketplace than they did in the past.
- How has ‘Front & Centre’ evolved from three years ago?Our show has become an even more flexible platform for storytelling that’s created more opportunities for brands to become a part of the cinema story as we’ve increased brand integrations. This increased demand has given us a chance to re-examine the show to find out what’s next for our advertisers in terms of placement and creative content opportunities. We think movie-goers and advertisers are going to like it.
- Three years ago, you used Nielsen for measurement. Today you have added Movio data and have been doing studies with MediaScience. Tell us about these (and any others you are using) – what you have learned from them, and how you are using the information?While we do have many other research companies we work with that provide fantastic additional insights, Nielsen remains the standard by which we are measured. We have our own panel, Movio, ComScore, Placed and others, each of whom could be a great fit, depending on the client.
Tech and location-based data have enabled us to learn even more about movie-goer behavior, purchases and psychographics. We’ve also built upon that to tap into neuroscience to understand how emotional connection plays a role in ad recall. We’re happy to report that cinema scored well. We’re continuing to pursue new advancements in research to further unlock insights into our audience, which we look forward to sharing in more detail later this year.
- Tell us about Cintel.Cintel is really about unlocking the digital movie-goer audience, and that all starts with data. We have hands-down the most advanced movie-goer database available to brands in our sector and it has been very well received. Our data is sourced from our own first party data, ticketing services, loyalty programs, SDK integrations, location data and social. This first-in-class database unlocks targeting advanced audiences on screen well beyond age and gender, opens up new ways to measure attribution, and activates digital targeting.
- Has advertising at each level, national and local, become easier to sell? Is it still sold in the same way? What is the ’10 Pack Deal’?Our value proposition has become easier to sell as brands recognize the power of cinema and the need to replace their TV audiences. Recent demands for better targeting and tighter ROI have also created new opportunities that led to increased growth.
The ‘10 Pack’ is our marquee offering that guarantees brands the chance to reach millions of movie-goers in front of all the year’s biggest movies. Advertisers are given the opportunity to purchase exclusive, premium placement during the opening weekends of the 10 annual major blockbusters with full national coverage. This means looking at our inventory in a new way and managing the demand for those hot movies that everybody wants. We have numerous flexible ways for advertisers to buy cinema and access the big blockbusters.
- How big is your sales staff today compared to three years ago? How large is Screenvision Media’s total staff?Overall, we’re a company with a 300-330 employee headcount range. We’ve grown to keep up with demand over the past several years. About half our employees are either national, local or regional sellers.
- Please discuss your CMS: Are you still using Ayuda? If not, who?While our digital lobby providers use Ayuda, we use Deluxe for on-screen and continue to evaluate potential improvements so we can be responsive to trends like programmatic, interactive and content opportunities.
- Are you using programmatic across the system? With whom? Where is it of most, and possibly of least, value to you? Tell us your general thoughts on it?Our in-lobby providers are on programmatic platforms and we’re aggressively seeking to onboard and test within IP- enabled playback servers. While we believe programmatic will drive revenue in a portion of our inventory, the challenge is maintaining our preshow’s high standard of quality and avoiding commoditization of our premier medium.
- Screenvision is a member of DPAA. Are you a current Board member? What is its value for your company?I am a very proud board member of the DPAA. It’s a very special group that brings together thought leadership across data, tech and content. Our premium video positioning has benefited greatly from the association, of being viewed as the best of out-of-the-home. We believe the mobile nature of consumers fortunately makes cinema a marquee Out-of-Home option.
- What technical advances has Screenvision made in the past three years, if any?We’ve pushed ahead into agency planning tech to make our inventory visible to Strata and MediaOcean, which will make it easier to buy us for spot TV buyers, a new market for us. We’re also installing IP-enabled playback devices to increase flexibility and inventory opportunities for on-screen ads. We’ve partnered with CIELO to better enhance our ad delivery reporting. Lastly, we’ve leaned in to mobile and digital, increasing our data and re-targeting opportunities.
- Abry Partners, a private equity company, acquired a majority stake in Screenvision last spring. Why were they interested in it? Are Shamrock Capital and AMC Entertainment still minority shareholders? Shamrock is also an investor in Branded Cities: could that be a lead to your expanding beyond theatres?Shamrock held us for about seven years, which is a reasonable tenure for a private equity firm. Abry recognized the power and appeal of cinema as TV ratings continue to decline, and saw additional growth opportunities for Screenvision. Just about a year in, we feel it has been an absolutely terrific partner with smart, thoughtful and creative thinkers.
AMC and Shamrock Capital have continued on as minority shareholders in our business. Shamrock is still part of our board and brings the added benefit of our shared history and its tenured, sage perspectives.
Whether it’s Branded Cities or any other potential alliance partner, we thoughtfully and rigorously evaluate opportunities for synergy that might drive innovation and growth for our exhibitor and agency partners and our company. We do have a special ‘sibling’ relationship with Branded Cities since we share Shamrock Capital as an investor. We evaluate mutually beneficial co-selling or partnering opportunities on a case-by-case basis, and like its team quite a bit personally. However, we have no ongoing strategic relationship and no plans to create one.
- In terms of you personally, do you envision ending your business career at Screenvision? Where do you see yourself in five years? You were in the advertising business prior to Screenvision. What do you feel you’ve brought from that to Screenvision?I’ve been very fortunate in my 30+ year career-to-date to have experienced different chapters in the media, advertising and private equity sectors. Screenvision Media has been a rare and wonderful opportunity to draw on aspects of all my prior career experiences. It’s been a privilege to work alongside such a talented leadership team as well as the entire creative and energized employee base.
I hope I’ve been able to provide the right framework for growth, innovation and creativity whilst instilling and protecting a culture that is empowering, supportive, curious, collaborative and aggressive. All companies have their own shared DNA and collective chemistry and a big part of my job lies in enhancing, nurturing and protecting this challenger brand culture.
I’m fortunately growing younger every year, so I’m light years away from thinking about where and how I might close out my career, but I’d certainly be open to Screenvision Media being my last business card.
- Tell us about ‘Connected Cinema’ – when was it launched as a separate idea and how is it working?Connected Cinema was an initiative that has manifested itself into a strategy where we seek to create a portfolio of alliances to connect movie-goers beyond the screen. We’ve learned it’s best leveraged as an à la carte offering to pair with specific advertiser goals. Creating engagements that connect our advertisers directly with the experience our movie-goers have in the theatre, while still staying true to the cinema environment are what it’s all about for us.
- How long have you been offering Events (eg. Rolling Stones Rock and Roll shows) Do you tie in your advertising to these as well, in your lobbies, windows, etc. Do you also do the other concerts and activities?We’ve been in the event cinema business for over ten years now and our exhibitors find it to be additive for driving attendance during the week. (It’s a kick for Mick and Keith to be able to say they’re working with our SVM team.) When it comes to tying in advertisers into our event cinema offerings, we see it tending toward more of a sponsorship-supported model. Whether it’s rock concerts, Broadway, or anime, there’s a lot of incredible event cinema opportunities out there, and we’d love for our advertisers to be a bigger part of it.
- Please explain Time Play?TimePlay offers two-way connectivity between smartphones and the screen. Whether through trivia, polls or live games played against their fellow audience members, it gives movie-goers the chance to respond in real-time to content they are watching on-screen, through the TimePlay app on their phones.
Time Play is a robust platform that brings exciting opportunities, and we continue to explore finding the best fit for us in terms of show length in ways that emphasize simple, intuitive engagements. We know there’s a lot of audience overlap between movie-goers and gamers and bringing those two activities that people have so much passion for just makes sense for us.
- Is your emphasis now on more on adding theatres? Transforming theatres? The movie theatre experience? Ad sales?As a seller of advertising for theatre chains, we are supportive of exhibitors’ efforts to enhance the movie going experience. And we do our best to enhance our part of that experience through a preshow that is entertaining, relevant and professionally produced.
With everything we bring to our exhibitor partners, whether it’s in-lobby offerings or on-screen content, the goal is to create a more memorable and entertaining experience for the movie-goer. The more people enjoy their time at the movies, the easier our job gets. We are always focused on strengthening our network.
- Please tell us about the Xbox deal with MX4D technology that ran in some of your theatres. Was the experience worthwhile?This was the perfect example of technology supersizing the impact of an existing ad – the holy grail for us!
MX4D technology enabled Xbox to convert its ad into a truly immersive experience. In select theatres featuring state-of-the art seats, audiences were brought into the world of the ad through in-seat sensory technology and theatrical effects including really fun stuff like seat rumblers, wind generators, strobe lights and scents. It basically turned an already-terrific ad into a mini theme park ride for movie-goers.
Another great example was our campaign with Pillsbury where we filled auditoriums with the scent of cinnamon rolls when its ad played on screen. It’s a given that cinema is the most immersive environment for a brand story and by engaging more senses, we elevated that immersion even further. The challenge with these types of opportunities is creating more scale, but philosophically and strategically, these were home runs for us.
- Please explain your Lifestyle segments (ReelFood, Reel Fitness, Real Home, Corner Store), how you arranged them and why.One of the most exciting parts of working at Screenvision is that through our preshow, we get a chance to be storytellers ourselves. We’re creating content that people are going to see on the big screen and talk about it with their friends and family.
The Lifestyle content was a fun experiment for us and led to some great content that we’re proud of, but our key learning is that if it’s going up on a cinema screen, it needs to relate back more organically to the magic of the movies. We want to bring our audiences closer to what they came to the theatre for – the movies. That’s our emphasis going forward when it comes to original content.
Please stay tuned though for even more compelling creative storytelling and new exciting innovations in our Front + Center preshow.