Bowley plots the next dimension for cinema

Digital Cinema Media managing director Martin Bowley tells Media Week how advertisers can reach movie fans at every stage of the cinema experience

Martin Bowley is a man in the right place at the right time. A man who has landed on his feet after a series of underwhelming media ventures - best not to mention brand enhancement outfit Amplified - to secure a new role presiding over a medium that is emerging from the train wreck of the recession as the only media sector capable of increasing its profit this year.

Call it survivor's instinct or just plain luck, but as managing director of Digital Cinema Media, which controls 67% of cinema screen advertising in the UK, Bowley has the enviable task of persuading agencies to allocate spend to a medium where January admissions were up 7.7% year on year and ad spend jumped 2.5%.

Oh, and by the way, cinema doesn't depend on advertising since it has alternative revenue streams from ticket sales, DVD rentals and Sky Movies; the number of films on release jumped from 383 in 2000 to 527 in 2008; and the industry is leading the market in futuristic innovations such as Bluetooth and 3D.

Bowley says: "Cinema is the quality end of the broadcast schedule. Advertisers are taking advantage of the enormous investment from Hollywood, so in a world of budget cuts, the quality of the product has not been affected.

"Secondly, the growth in cinema multiplexes and film releases benefits both Hollywood and the viewer: the long tail of choice online is an EPG guide of the best there is in movies. Every year, something comes along that breaks the mould."

But the path to a job that satisfyingly combines Bowley's experience in sales, broadcast and digital has not been straightforward.

Bowley, 53, may drive a Jaguar today, but his first motor as a school leaver from Torquay was a Ford Transit van, which he drove around the caravan parks of South West England and South Wales selling "caravan accessories", which translates as "portaloos". As he recalls his time spent staying in the hotels of Carmarthen: "I have never been so lonely in my life."

He then spent four formative years as a sales rep, first for Cadbury and then for Sheaffer Pens. Although he never wants to "flog bloody chocolate and pens" ever again, the selling jobs did expose him to the power of advertising, as he watched brands such as Double Decker and Flake fly off the shelves following a new TV campaign.

Big break
His big break came when he saw an ad for a sales executive at [ITV franchise] Westward Television, which led to 13 years at Carlton TV, where he rose to the level of board director. When Bowley was unceremoniously fired following the merger with Granada, the old-media veteran took himself off to learn some new-media skills at mobile entertainment company Pitch, sold to US firm PlayPhone last year.

Digital Cinema Media, which rebranded from Carlton Screen Advertising after its acquisition by Odeon and Cineworld last July, is - as its name implies - investing in a digital future and Bowley is aiming to lead the market in this space.

His first steps are a complete review of DCM's Bluetooth activity - providers Breeze Tech and Bluepod are fighting it out to win DCM's Bluetooth pitch - and a look at how DCM can improve relationships with its cinema chains' websites.

If Bluetooth and online promotions are linked to experiential activity - such as Butlins Redcoats appearing in foyers to promote Odeon's Kids Club - then advertisers will be able to reach cinema-goers at every stage of the cinema experience.

Bowley explains: "We want to create a connection with audiences when they book online at home, to talk to them via mobile when they walk through the foyer and to show them the products on screen. No other medium can do that."

Cinema advertising already has a greater impact than other media, Bowley claims, and this impact will only become more powerful as the roll-out of digital screens gathers momentum and more movies are shot in 3D. At present, there are 320 digital screens in the UK, while 15 3D films are set for release this year, including Ice Age 3 and Avatar, a closely guarded masterwork from Titanic director James Cameron.

Bowley, who has attended several secret screenings of 3D films, believes the technology has limitless potential.

Immersive experience
He says: "We are at the opening credits of the expansion of screens going digital. When you watch a 3D film, the picture is all around you and you are completely immersed in the movie. Ice Age 3 is the best 3D film I have seen; the fur and the leaves on the trees move towards you."

Cinema ads will also start to be shot in 3D, following last year's first 3D ad for Red Bull. Shooting ads in 3D costs 25% more than a 2D version, but Bowley believes that, when the costs come down, creative agencies will harness the technology to make "the most stunning commercials". He says: "We will have arrived when the winning ad at Cannes or the British Television Advertising Awards is in 3D."

This week, Cadbury is launching an interactive version of its Eyebrows ad, where cinema audiences can influence the movement of the eyebrows by waving their arms in the air. The irony of Cadbury beating a path to his door is not lost on the salesman-turned-media-owner, who paid his dues cold-calling customers on Cadbury's behalf. He confesses: "I still get those pinch your hand moments, even today."

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