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Cable Trailers on Big Screen Drawing Fire : Movies: Product advertising in theaters has been around for some time but, as one studio executive says, 'this is different . . . this is competition.'

March 05, 1994|JUDY BRENNAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

More than just "The Birds" has landed at Cineplex Odeon's theaters, which are currently playing a trailer for Showtime's upcoming sequel to Hitchcock's 1963 classic.

Angry distributors are miffed about having to share screen space with competing cable movies that are being promoted along with their theatrical trailers.

The major studios, which produce and distribute the movies that keep theaters operating, say they don't need the extra competition from TV in what they consider to be their prime advertising venue.

"Screen advertising has been around for a while and none of the studios really like it. But this is different. This is not some neutral product like Reebok. This is competition," says Jeff Blake, president of distribution for Columbia Pictures.

An angry Barry Reardon, president of distribution at Warner Bros., threatens that if the Showtime spot or any cable movie promo "appears (on a trailer) on one of our pictures, we will pull the picture. And I guarantee after this article runs, Cineplex and all the rest (of the exhibitors) will get the message."

Reardon added that he wasn't the least bit surprised to learn that it was Cineplex airing Showtime's spots. "You have to ask yourself, why would an exhibitor, a movie-related company, promote something that's going to be shown on TV and not sell tickets? Cineplex will do anything for money."

That then would apply to movie trailers played by Home Box Office, which is owned by Warners. HBO, in fact, did run a theatrical trailer for its cable movie about AIDS, "And the Band Played On" last August.

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Reardon's studio competitors echoed his sentiments, including executives at Universal, which owns a 42% interest in Cineplex (and produced the original Hitchcock film "The Birds"). They were particularly concerned that Cineplex had not advised them that the trailer was played with "The Getaway," one of Universal's films currently in release.

Sources say movie distributors are worried that cable companies paying for trailer time could set a precedent for studios also having to fork out money to preview their future movies.

A Cineplex Odeon official says the "The Birds II: Land's End" Showtime trailer, which has been running four weeks in its 1,060 U.S. theaters, cost Showtime $140,000.

Howard Lichtman, Cineplex' executive vice president of marketing, says: "TV movies are no different to us than AT&T or Frito-Lay. TV is a totally different medium and we don't consider it competition for theatrical features.

"Our main business is movies and we wouldn't do anything to hinder that," Lichtman adds. "As for competition for space, we try to maximize the number of trailers we show on any film and we would never" bump a feature trailer for a TV movie promo or product commercial.

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Cineplex is one of the few chains to show ads in its theaters. But Showtime's sister company National Amusements, both of which are owned by Paramount Pictures' new parent, Viacom Inc., is also airing promos for the cable movie. Combined, the trailer has been running on 2,100 Cineplex and National Amusement screens.

"The Birds II" sequel begins airing on Showtime March 19, timed to coincide with the 30th Anniversary of Hitchcock's original thriller. The cast includes Tippi Hedren, who appeared in the 1963 film. It centers on a family who lost a son and decides to move their shattered lives to an East Coast island, where the oil-slick waters become the target of--what else?--bird attacks. In the original, the birds attacked Bodega Bay, Calif.

Showtime has also run trailers in theaters for two previous Showtime movies: John Carpenter's "Body Bags" in August 1993, and another Hitchcock sequel, "Psycho 4," in November 1992.

"We've had very positive feedback by doing this in the past," says Mark Greenburg, Showtime's senior vice president of marketing. "Having a trailer in a theater creates some excitement."

Would HBO consider a theatrical trailer again for one of its cable movies? "I wouldn't rule it out," says Jim Noonan, vice president of corporate affairs. "But we would probably use it selectively, on a film that had an important message like 'And the Band Played On.' "

But Turner Pictures is not on the bandwagon.

While Turner seems like a natural theater fit with its newly acquired film companies Castle Rock Entertainment and New Line Cinema, "the key thing holding us back is the cost," says Scot Safon, vice president of marketing for TNT. "In evaluating a smart media buy, theaters do not cover the market as well as other alternatives."

"For us, 'The Birds' is a pre-sold concept," adds Showtime's Greenburg. "What better way for us to communicate than go to the people who made the original a success in the first place, the moviegoing audience."

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