Last week the ShowEast exhibition convention was held. That’s where theater owners get together and talk about how much money they’re making off of you going to the movies. They also discuss ways to get more money out of your pocket, because that’s what any good business owner is supposed to do.

While there the hot topic was in-cinema advertising, and the news that not only did it grow into a massive $455 million business last year, but that theater owners seem to think customers no longer mind it. In the interests of clarity, here’s what Cliff Marks, president of the Cinema Advertising Council had to say on the subject of audience annoyance to “It’s died down for a reason. It’s died down because the product has gotten so much better. Companies like National CineMedia and Screenvision have spent a lot of time and effort and energy and cost creating entertaining preshows that happen before the movies… The experience is much better, the content is much better, and—[although] this isn’t true of every exhibitor in America—in many cases, the ads only run before showtime. We did what we were supposed to do, and that’s listen to exhibition and listen to the customer and create a better experience.”

And he’s right. It has gotten better. In fact, I love it. In many theaters you’ll no longer see advertisements after the movie starts, except for the obligatory “visit the concession stand” and a long litany of previews. But the after start-time commercials, in many cities at least, are gone. In their place is the pre-show Marks mentions, where they run commercials before the movie’s start time. You’re just sitting there, you might as well watch something. It’s better than staring at a blank screen. Better still, they’re not bland, boring, or annoying advertisements; theaters have gone out of their way to make the commercials interesting. Show up early to a movie and you’ll get a behind the scenes look at Seinfeld, as a way of advertising their new DVD. Or maybe an interview with the cast of a new movie. If there’s an advertisement for Coke, they try to pick one of the more entertaining ads, not just some banal, mind-sucking advertisement for “Head-On”. I’m not ashamed to say I love the pre-show, and I wouldn’t want to go back to a time when we all had to sit staring at nothing but blank screens or boring, repetitive, easy trivia.

Yet somehow, inexplicably, since the announcement of this news, the internet has gone on the attack. Apparently a lot of film commentators still aren’t happy. The past week has been riddled with riled up editorials across the internet, bashing the CAC for their continued pursuit of maximizing profits while minimizing annoyance.

For instance, here’s what Christopher Campbell over at Cinematical had to say: “The most ridiculous thing I've read in a long time, is the claim that customers are encouraging onscreen advertising. Profit stats I can understand as a motive for continuing with the practice, but doing it because people prefer it? I don't believe it. Maybe some strange people do enjoy the pre-show "entertainment" type, which turns the ads into an actual program, but there's no need for cinema chains to pretend enough people enjoy it to state that as a reason to have them.”

Chris is referring in specific to this anecdote from Marks: “Two weeks ago we got a complaint—Cinemark sent it over to us—from a customer who went to a Cinemark theatre,” Marks says. "There was a technical error, and the preshow did not run—that happens one or two percent of the time—and they actually sent a letter to Cinemark saying, ‘I got there early to see the preshow, and it didn’t run.’ I’m thinking, 'I never thought I’d see this day.'"

I’m not so sure why that’s hard to believe. People have come to expect the pre-show, and if you get there fifteen or twenty minutes early… would you rather watch some entertaining commercials and a few behind the scenes previews or would you rather stare at a blank screen and tap your foot? Sorry, give me the commercials.

But Campbell seems to be really worried. He theorizes, “And it might even lead to an expansion. I'm not talking about longer pre-show "entertainments", but I wouldn't be surprised if theatres don't start leasing out space in other places. I'm actually shocked they haven't started having billboards on the sidewalls of auditoriums. Wait, I shouldn't be giving anyone ideas.”

Alright, come on man. We’re getting a little crazy here. The pre-show commercials are actually a huge step in the right direction. This is theater owners trying to clear out more space for movies to take center stage, without losing out on all that lucrative ad revenue. Have we already forgotten the days when BMW advertisements used to be interspersed with the movie trailers? The pre-show is all about eliminating that, and if you don’t want to see it you don’t have to. Don’t show up till right at start time. Theater owners get it, and they’re trying to waste less of your time. It’s not perfect yet, and there are places where theaters still show commercials after the film’s start time… but that’s fading, and we have the CAC’s pre-shows to thank for that. Give them a round of applause. What’s not to like?

Meanwhile John over at The Movie Blog was also pissed off, but for slightly different reasons. Like me, he’s all for those pre-shows, but he equates any other type of in theater advertising to piracy, saying: “If you tell me the movie starts at 7pm, then when I PAY YOU to get into the movies, there is an implied contract that you give me what I paid for… a movie at 7pm. When you instead put up 15-20 minutes of commercials at 7pm you are stealing my time, and also stealing MY SHARE OF THAT $456 MILLION you made off my time.”

And of course he’s right… and wrong at the same time. Everything he’s said is correct, but instead of bitching I think we all need to stand up and give a round of applause to the industry. Read Marks’ comments again. They’re working to eliminate exactly the problem John is talking about above… and they’re winning. My friends in Houston tell me that after-start-time advertising is still prevalent, but here in Dallas it’s all but vanished from the theater landscape. The same is true in other cities as well, and what the CAC is talking about here is the way they’ve managed to increase their profits while taking steps to reduce customer annoyance.

I don’t want to sound like I’m picking on the good folks over at Cinematical or The Movie Blog. They’re only saying the same things every other film pundit is saying, they simply had a more clear and concise way of saying it. Hey, I’m all for bitching when money-hungry fat cats start infringing on art with over-advertising. Television really has a problem. Did you see Lewis Black’s rant at the Emmys? Television is a mess. Theater owners however, seem to be going out of their way to avoid becoming the quagmire of over-advertising that Fox Television has become. Let’s stop bitching and give credit where credit is due. Give the movie industry a round of applause. It’s not perfect yet, but they’re figuring it out a way to keep movies intact while still making money. Bravo. Everyone once in awhile, capitalism actually works.

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