Vue sales contract loss may mean curtains for cinema ad veteran Pearl & Dean

You all know the music of course (must get audio-only on this site) and to many people Pearl & Dean means cinema advertising. But the venerable chain has just lost the sales contract for Vue cinemas to long-time rival DCM (formerly Carlton Screen Advertising and before that Rank Screen Advertising) and that may mean curtains for the once-dominant company that also started the Cannes Advertising Film Festival (SAWA it was called, screen advertising world awards or something like that).

P&D is now owned by the Empire cinema chain and that remains its only big client. It was sold to Empire for £1 by former owner STV (Scottish Television) last year. DCM is now owned by big cinema chains Odeon and Cineworld so it was bound to win the battle in the end.

Even though the cinema business as a whole is booming the (former) big two cinema advertising operators had been losing buckets of money because of their stupid practice of offering the cinema chains guaranteed payments against ad revenue. Much like the poster industry, which has also suffered accordingly.

P&D’s old contract gave Vue an annual £17.6m, which didn’t leave a lot after you’d paid for the popcorn.

DCM MD Martin Bowley, formerly a TV sales director and then, briefly, a headhunter, says DCM has offered no such hostages to fortune to Vue this time. Quite right too.

Cinema advertising (from the operators’ point of view) began to head downhill when Carlton TV bought Rank Screen Advertising, P&D’s traditional enemy. Carlton, a pretty hopeless crew to be honest (David Cameron used to be its PR man) brought in a bunch of refugees from posters and the national press who started to dish out these stupid guarantees to knock out P&D and gain a monopoly. P&D tried to match them and the end result was a booming ad market owned by two companies which both lost a fortune.

Will anyone save P&D?

My old chum Peter Howard-Williams who used to be run both P&D and, before that, RSA in the days when they made money has since shown an interest in buying P&D.

Maybe Empire should give him a ring.

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About Stephen Foster

Stephen is a former editor of Marketing Week and London Evening Standard advertising columnist. He wrote City Republic for Brand Republic and is a partner in communications consultancy The Editorial Partnership.