The Big Screen Is Back

Courtesy Adobe Stock

By Patrick Corcoran—Vice President & Chief Communications Officer, NATO

A familiar face popped up on TV screens during the 2021 Academy Awards preshow, inviting us to join him inside his favorite Austin, Texas, movie theater. It was Matthew McConaughey, and what he wanted to show us, after a year of pandemic closures, was that the big screen is back. 

Or rather, #TheBigScreenIsBack. For two minutes on Hollywood’s biggest (though socially distanced) night, McConaughey introduced us to movie theater employees from around the country, ready to return to work making memories for moviegoers denied one of their greatest pleasures. Framed by clips of some of the year’s biggest and most anticipated titles, the spot struck a chord with viewers and lighted up Twitter with emotional reactions.

The Oscars piece was the first step in an unprecedented collaboration among studios, exhibitors, publicists, stars and directors, NATO, MPA, and mega-agency CAA. The next step was an in-person event at AMC’s Century City theater, on May 19, with clips, actors, and filmmakers celebrating the return to moviegoing. With tireless work from MPA, CAA’s Bryan Lourd and Megan Crawford and their team, marketing professionals Terry Curtin and Wendy Lightbourn, countless movie industry volunteers, and CinemaCon’s own Mitch Neuhauser and Matt Pollock, the event brought presentations to the press from 13 distributors large and small.

Arnold Schwarzenegger, naturally, kicked off the event in his own inimitable style; the big screen will be back—the big screen is back. Arnold’s cheerleading led to a memorable introduction of NATO chairman Rolando Rodriguez’s keynote, which set the tone of community, togetherness, and the importance of the movie theater to the art of film. J.J. Abrams, Jason Blum, Zola director Janicza Bravo, and Werewolves Within star Sam Richardson appeared in-person alongside studio distribution chiefs Chris Aronson and Jeff Goldstein and prerecorded messages from various other filmmakers and studio executives.

Blum closed out the day with a compelling summary. “Our industry is at an inflection point,” he said. “The collision of the recovery from the pandemic and all of the shifting business models and the crazy corporate consolidation, especially of the past week, puts us at this intersection of recovery and also of change.”

“It’s tempting, of course, to quickly draw conclusions about what it all means—I think it’ll take time for us to all really figure that out,” Blum continued. “But I think it’s great that all the competitors collectively gathered here to talk to all of you about one thing, which is how much the theatrical moviegoing experience matters.”

The McConaughey ad, studio clips, and interviews from the event were repurposed for distribution on YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter and distributed as trailers for use in movie theaters and preshows. NATO of California/Nevada used a shortened version of the Oscars ad in a multimillion-dollar ad campaign in July.

National NATO funded the creation of the materials and production of The Big Screen Is Back campaign, but, using our experience from funding an ad campaign for the CinemaSafe program, we determined that earned media—stories about the campaign and the event—were a far more efficient use of our members’ dollars. From the beginning of the campaign at the Oscars on April 25, and through mid-July, The Big Screen Is Back has been covered in media with a potential reach of 3.85 billion people. Much of that media attention was fueled by the Oscars ad, with stories the first day having a potential reach of 449 million the first day. The Big Screen Is Back event was even more successful in garnering media attention, with a potential reach of 849 million the first day. Ongoing mention of “The Big Screen Is back” has netted an additional potential audience of 2.5 billion people.

The monetary value of such exposure goes far beyond what we could have accomplished in ad spending. Meltwater, a media tracking and measurement firm, estimates the “advertising value equivalent” of media coverage of The Big Screen Is Back at $35.6 million.

Of course, the greatest tonic for moviegoing is movies. As we prepare for CinemaCon, box office, driven by increased vaccinations, decreased infections, the absence of capacity restrictions in cinemas, and, most importantly, increasing releases of crowd-pleasing movies, has continued its upward trajectory begun in the spring. And it is appropriate that we continue to underscore at CinemaCon, a celebration of the moviegoing experience, that The Big Screen Is Back.

An industry think tank panel with director Patty Jenkins, Marcus Theatres’ CEO Rolando Rodriguez, Cinemark’s CEO Mark Zoradi, and a studio executive will carry that theme forward. Look for special video content and presentations throughout the week at CinemaCon that will continue to drive it home.

The Big Screen Is Back, and CinemaCon is back in Vegas. I look forward to seeing you here in person.

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