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4th Screen + Big Screen

Advertisers have lost our attention at movie theatres, where we pass the time by staring at our mobiles. But if they play it right (and make it worthwhile), they can get us to sit up and take notice.

Warning: this post contains light spoilers for Gravity and Sleuth.

Post Mobile World Congress, I managed to take a few days’ vacation to recover. After laundry, Spring cleaning, and doing my best to make a dent in the TV shows piling up on my PVR, I managed to get to the movies.

Rather belatedly, I went to see the second part of The Hobbit in 3D. As I prefer to be in the sweet spot for 3D movies, I did something I normally never do when going to the cinema: went in before the ads started.

I really hate spoilers, and movie trailers even more so. Trailers focus on giving away major plot points and removing any suspense from the movie. Here’s a great list of movies spoilt by their trailers. I go even further than the list, with my ideal situation being not even knowing who is in the film. (Fans of Alec Cawthorne will know exactly what I mean. If you don’t know what I mean, put the 1972 film Sleuth on your "to watch" list. Don’t Google Cawthorne if you haven’t seen it.) Even the poster can give too much away. (Gravity, I’m thinking about you specifically). So, I now have worked out, on a cinema-by-cinema basis (and accounting for the number of trailers increasing in the lead-up to the summer blockbuster season) the precise time to enter, just before the film starts. (Yes, OCD. I know.)

So, back to my early arrival at The Hobbit. I had to keep myself distracted during the ads and trailers. Like everyone else in the theatre, I was head-down, staring at my phone.

That got me thinking about advertisers. How can they combat this new behaviour in what used to be a captive audience? Simple: You make use of mobile.

Select cinemas, including the one I was in, are now offering a new app, cinime, which enables you to interact with ads and trailers using inaudible "watermarks" in the sound. The app enables to you to play games, get links to upcoming movies, and more. Everything is contained in the app itself, so no need for WiFi or 3G coverage (which, in London, is a good thing ).

I won a medium soda in the Sony-sponsored movie quiz, but didn’t fare so well in the BMW driving game.


Cinime isn’t the first to use audio to interact with apps. Whilst Shazam started as a very clever service that could identify almost any song by just hearing a short clip, it can now identify tags in adverts and TV shows to trigger the app to deliver specific content.

Here in the UK, IKEA has been using this approach to add value to a traditional TV spot. Beyond just serving the same ad on your mobile, it also includes links to a competition, an activity pack and the answer to "what’s this song?" (Something Homebase should do for the series of "whistling song" ads.)

And whilst 30 seconds is not a huge amount of time, it’s enough to reach for my iPad, unlock, fire-up Shazam and tag the add—as you can see.


When you go beyond the 30 second spot, and look at an entire TV show, then you can create an fascinating audio-timeline. Here’s a great example from the Super Bowl.

Turning ads from something passive to an interactive experience is certainly a great way to improve engagement. Heck, winning free sodas might almost be enough to tempt me to get to the theatre before the main feature starts.

If there is one thing I hate more than spoilers, it’s people using their mobiles during a movie. Luckily there’s also now an app for that. The Cinemark app includes a CineMode, which rewards you for not using your phone during the movie. Perfect.

It’s sadly only available in select theatres, so until then I’ll have to rely on my favourite cinema’s approach: Ninjas!