The global pandemic has touched every business in the world and few have been impacted more than cinemas. In response to the situation, over the past ten months Screenvision Media has developed new ways for its cinema advertising customers to reach the public. To understand how this evolved and to learn what happens next for the company, I spoke by email with Screenvision’s chief revenue officer Katy Loria and chief partnership officer, operations & exhibitor relations Darryl Schaffer. Here is our conversation:
Digital Cinema Report: What kind of impact has the pandemic had on Screenvision Media’s business?
Darryl Schaffer: It’s been a year more difficult than any of us could have imagined. As a company whose primary source of revenue is cinema advertising, we quickly found ourselves needing a substantial pivot in order to survive and thrive. In the early days of the pandemic, we rallied around three core tenets:
First, uphold our promise to advertising and exhibitor partners to take good care of their business. We have been openly communicative with our partners about the roller coaster of theatre closures and slate changes in order to help clients navigate a difficult landscape.
Secondly, we moved quickly to save existing revenue through synergistic new opportunities like our drive-in theatres and digital newsletter, Movie Radar. The drive-in renaissance has been terrific to witness! Not only did advertisers quickly embrace our drive-in network, but conversations are already underway for next season.
Finally, we pledged to use the down time to constructively plan for our post-pandemic future by considering new and improved strategies for connecting brands with movie-goers inside and outside of theatres.
DCR: How did the company respond? Furloughs? Layoffs?
DS: In order to manage costs in the face of halted revenue, we made the hard decision to reduce our payroll through a number of terminations in May. Additionally, we instituted company-wide salary reductions. On the brighter side, the vast majority of our vendors have worked with us on restructured payment schedules to help ease cash flow concerns.
DCR: How many, if any, Screenvision Media employees contracted the virus.
Katy Loria: We are relieved to say only a handful of Screenvision employees have contracted the virus, all of whom have safely recovered.
DCR: Despite all of the challenges of 2020, Screenvision Media has remained active in particular with your out-of-home network. What was the thinking behind Screenvision OOH, since your primary business is cinema advertising?
KL: Our primary business and passion is and always will be cinema advertising. That’s where our roots lie and our expertise abounds. The success we’d achieved in cinema advertising afforded us the opportunity to spread our wings and in early 2019, we set about the business of building the SV Sports vertical. We dedicated a specialized team to build a network of sports leagues, teams and properties to expand our cinema advertising base and connect brands with a different – albeit equally passionate – audience. The sports fan.
Prior to the pandemic, we had begun to identify other diversified revenue streams that would be capitalized on our core expertise of media sales and reduce our reliance on just one screen. The unavoidable shift in the cinema landscape caused by the pandemic created an opportunity for us to expedite additional strategic alliances. Hence the launch of our newest sales initiative, Front + Center Everywhere.
DCR: Among the new business you’ve developed since March are deals with Atmosphere, Volta, ReachTV, Outcome Health and, most recently TopGolf. How many, if any, of those deals were in the works prior to the pandemic and how many developed this year?
KL: I guess we were in conversation with at least half of our new alliances prior to the pandemic.
DCR: Your OOH Network will feature content from your Front + Center preshow that audiences know from movie theatres. How, if at all, will the content on Front + Center Everywhere differ from what is playing in cinemas?
KL: Exactly right! As soon as the notion of selling a network of off-cinema screens was born, we loved the notion that our Front + Center preshow would be the connective tissue. Front + Center is a brand that’s recognizable to consumers as well as advertisers. It’s a natural answer to “why Screenvision” for our sellers who are proposing business solutions to connect advertisers to the right audiences. And yes, if we do this right, our Front + Center content will be adapted for the screen and network it lives on while remaining true to its brand equity of being smart, playful and grounded in entertainment.
DCR: Will you create content specifically for your OOH network?
DS: Yes, again. Our creative services team is actively engaged with alliance partners in regard to the arc of content that could be developed. And that can take any number of paths – we could create content that is Front + Center branded or content that is platform-centric or content that integrates a brand. True to our deep-rooted passion for cinema, we embrace and celebrate the art of storytelling. It’s exciting to work with new partners and together, bring new stories to screen.
DCR: How have your existing customers responded to these new developments?
KL: From the onset, we were fortunate to have a very positive reaction from both existing and new clients. Some recognize the ease of execution that comes with tapping into a stable of screens through one point of contact. Some appreciate being offered replacement schedules for cinema campaigns that were temporarily thwarted by the pandemic. Some zero in on specific platforms best suited for their product or message. And, we hope, all know they can rely on the Screenvision team to steward their business for the best possible outcomes.
DCR: Talk about the synergies between your cinema network and your OOH network. Have you added any new advertisers because of the OOH and, have any of them expressed interest in working with you in cinema?
KL: The initial strategy was to reach moviegoers beyond the auditorium … in the lobby, on their mobile devices, through our digital Movie Radar newsletter. Then we began to connect with moviegoers in theatre parking lots via electric vehicle charging stations and at retail through the kiosk rental of DVD movies. The evolution of the strategy is based on the desirable characteristics of the moviegoer. They are educated, affluent, young and often hard-to-reach: after all, Millennials equal cord-cutters. And they are active. Therein lies the ultimate synergy. Our cinema network is further strengthened by our alliance partners and we are now able to reach active consumers where they live, work, play, shop and more.
DCR: Similarly, have any of your existing cinema advertisers taken advantage of the OOH network?
KL: Absolutely. Our Front + Center Everywhere strategy not only opens door with prospective new advertisers, but also enables existing cinema advertisers the chance to extend messaging beyond the big screen and onto the other screens consumers encounter throughout their daily journeys. An advertiser who may have been faced with splitting a budget across five or six platforms, as is often the case with small businesses, now has the option to accomplish that through one streamlined conversation with his/her Screenvision account manager.
DCR: As movie theatres slowly start to reopen, what conversations are you having with exhibitors and with your advertising partners?
DS: We’ve had an important goal from the onset: when cinema returns to its full potential, we want our partners to feel we were never gone. Whether it be an exhibitor or an advertiser, we have stayed in constant contact. Our exhibitor relations team has been in touch with all 150+ partners multiple times on many fronts. We are discussing various opportunities for creative and new inventory in 2021 and beyond, both on screen and in the lobby. We are frequently in touch with our advertising partners so they are always informed on the state of cinema. Currently we’re in discussion for multi-quartered campaigns for calendar year 2021. We will continue to work with clients to weave flexibility into deals to allow for variables that may still need time to settle, i.e. shifts in the slate, theatre re-opening schedules and audience build.
DCR: What are your expectations for 2021?
KL: Big! It will definitely be a rebuilding year, but as our CEO John Partilla is known to say, we will take the steps back up two at a time. We’ve waited a long time to get back to the business we love. And we’ve spent a lot of time and thought planning for it. As we all know, there is a phenomenal slate ready to go for 2021. Our research shows that consumer sentiment is incredibly strong in regard to both the desire and confidence in getting back to big-screen movie-going. We’d love to see No Time to Die kick off the return to cinema in April, but whether it’s April, May, June, July … we’ll be ready. Our advertising partners have been rooting for us for eight months thus far. We cannot wait to return the favor by putting them back onto that beloved 40-foot screen in front of passionate movie fans.