Commercials in Movie Theaters

by Brad Goodman

In just the last five years cinema advertising revenues have jumped 48 percent from $212.3 million in 2002 to $315.1 million in 2003 in North America according to the Cinema Advertising Council. Such double-digit growth in cinema advertising is expected to continue.

For small advertisers, cinema advertising is extremely affordable. The general rate is roughly $30 per screen per week for a :15 commercial which will run once during the pre-feature program. The rate for government and non-profit organizations is $18.00 per screen per week. Cinema spots, or rolling stock as they are known in cinema advertising, are available for purchase in unit lengths of :15, :30, :45, :60, :90, or :120, and most theaters require a four week minimum schedule of advertising.

As an independent video producer or small production company, this situation presents an opportunity to add another dimension to your business. You can provide production for rolling stock cinema advertising as an add-on option to local and regional advertisers in your area who may currently be running commercials on local TV or cable channels. In addition to the production revenue, you can also offer to place the media and mark up these charges as well.

For instance, let’s say your client is a local jewelry store for whom you’ve produced a :30 spot running on the local cable channel. Now you can go back to your client and offer to re-edit the spot to make it into a :15, which he or she can then run at the local Cineplex during the pre-feature before, say, a popular romantic comedy. At $30 per week for four weeks, that’s only $120. You mark that up twenty percent and charge your client $150.

So for only $150 for the media buy, your client gets four weeks of screening his or her commercial in front of a captive and specifically targeted audience. Plus, you can charge for the additional billable hours for the re-editing and re-mixing.

There are several cinema ad formats to choose from. Screenvision, the largest national network with exclusive access to 14,000 screens in several major theater chains, offers rolling stock, still image advertising (analog or digital slides) and in-theater promotional opportunities.

The nation’s largest movie chain, Knoxville, Tennessee-based Regal Entertainment Group (, has eliminated most slide advertising and invested $75 million to create a digital network. Now, on nearly 5,300 of Regal’s screens, moviegoers view The 2wenty which is a short-form entertainment segment interspersed with ads to comprise a 20-minute digital pre-feature.

While each movie chain has it’s own unique rolling stock specifications, what follows below are some guidelines for the production of rolling stock from Regal Entertainment Group’s web site. You’ll find these tips are quite applicable for general direction in cinema advertising.

Standard Definition video is acceptable as is HDV. However, if at all possible, try produce your video in High Definition, and keep it in HD from capture to delivery. This will enhance color space, resolution, motion and image quality while reducing artifacts. If you shot in film and plan on doing Telecine transfer, try to transfer to a HD format such as 720p/59.97 HD D-5 or greater.

Produce cinematic audio by avoiding light and thin sounding compositions. Create audio in 5.1 discrete surround sound. Boost surround channels to 4 to 8bd to ensure full cinematic presentation. Remember, your spot will be shown in line with other cinema advertising as well as the ambient crowd noise. This noise floor can be as loud as 62db in the average theater. You may even consider adding a second or third Left and Right in the surround channels. Also, use a large frequency range from 20Hz to 20kHz to boost the sub woofer sound. Make sure to really push booming audio through the sub woofer, and fill all the other channels with some sound information.

Use bright or lighter colors in capturing and editing. These will help add a brilliance to the spot. Be mindful that there are several factors at work that degrade quality in darker footage (such as night scenes and dark interiors), and compression tends to collapse extreme values in luminance to fewer colors. If you must have a night scene, try to use a “night blue” as your illumination wherever possible. And boost your black levels and lower your gamma level slightly as well.

Always use computer generated (CG) graphics rather than runtime captured graphics. The scaling is much better on 45 foot x 70 foot screen. Try to leverage Anamorphic 16:9 techniques in standard definition capture and post if you intend to deliver on a SD tape format. It supports approximately an additional 80 lines of resolution (20%) that can be helpful in creating better quality in the up-conversion process.

Avoid long panning shots. These can be hard on the audience as these kinds of shots accentuate the motion effects of the 3:2 pull-down process. Keep it digital. If at all possible, never record to analog media or cross convert to analog formats once the content has entered the digital realm. Whether it is film scanned to digital or digital capture, use digital editing tools and digital media to produce and transport your content. For example, DVD source content laid off to BetaSP results in significant degradation and artifact creation.

When it comes to buying the space during the pre-feature for your client, and choosing the most preferred delivery format for the work, call the theater directly or check with the corporate offices. The movie chains below are the largest in the US:

Regal Entertainment with 6,273 screens

Including United Artists Theaters

AMC Entertainment with 3,500 screens

Loews Cineplex Entertainment with 15,000 screens

Including: Carmike Cinemas

AND Cinemark USA

Generally speaking, the most preferred format for submission is Panasonic HD D-5 tape, recorded in 720p/59.94 fps, in 16:9 aspect ratio. While not preferred, SD formats will be accepted and up-converted and can be submitted via DigiBeta, DVCAM, MiniDV and BetaSP.

You should always include NTSC color bars and 1kHz tone at the head of the tape with two seconds of black before and after the source material. In addition, keep in mind that 4:3 materials will be cropped in order to fit the 16:9 ratio.

In the case of Regal, all content presented during the pre-feature is compressed and encoded to a standard MPEG-2 HD format. SD content will be up-converted to 720p/59.94 fps at a constant bit rate of 15 to 19-Mbs. This format draws a full progressive image rather than interlaced at 59.94 frames per second. For more information on Regal’s compression scheme, download the PDF on advertising specs on their web site.


There are countless reasons for the dramatic upsurge in cinema advertising appeal. But most industry insiders note the increase in cinema advertising closely parallels the continual fragmentation of more traditional advertising vehicles like television. With the advent of cable and satellite television, the Internet and digital video recorders like TiVo, it’s become much more difficult for advertisers to efficiently and economically reach their market segment.

For you as an independent producer or small production company, this fact might be a great opportunity to expand your business and develop new revenue streams because of the advantages cinema advertising offers advertisers. But one thing is definitely for sure, the future looks to be two enthusiastic thumbs up for cinema advertising.

Do you have something valuable to add to this article? Email and be sure to include the address or title of this article. Thanks!

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5 thoughts on “Commercials in Movie Theaters

  1. David Kaplan


    Wondering what theaters that formerly used slide projectors for on-screen advertising are using now?

    Do you know of a method of integrating a still digital image (like a jpeg)with a typical DCP? My company has been doing on-screen ads for 19 years, but slide projectors are obviously obsolete.

    Thank you,

    1. Hal

      They are using video projectors, but I can’t tell you anymore than that. I would visit your local theater in an off time and go ask to speak to the manager. Tell him or her what are trying to do and ask for their advice. Most people will help you if approached properly. Let me know what you learn so I we can add it to this article.



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