Why National CineMedia’s Post-Pandemic Plan Is All About Audience And Attribution

Movie attendance plummeted during the pandemic.

But in-cinema advertising company National CineMedia wasn’t idle while it waited for foot traffic to bounce back, said Manu Singh, SVP of strategic insight and analytics. Instead, the company invested heavily in its data technology infrastructure.

Now, with moviegoers returning to theaters, NCM’s pandemic project is ready for its big-screen moment. The new data and analytics platform, NCMx, was introduced at last week’s upfronts.

NCMx serves as a back-end data service for theater chains. It aggregates and packages data into analytics reporting, which can be sliced by geographical, behavioral and exposure data – including affinities based on movies people watch.

The shiny new data offerings depend on a broader return to pre-pandemic moviegoing.

Singh made the case for movie theaters as a way to reach cord cutters and cord nevers. A Samba TV report said 45% of linear ad spend in Q4 2021 reached only 3% of “light” TV viewers, or audiences that lean toward over-the-top (OTT) streaming video. These “unreachables” can be found sitting in theaters, she said.

Demographically, the idea makes sense – younger generations haven’t ditched traditional TV, because they never knew it to begin with. But young audiences still flock to theaters, Singh said.


It’s hard enough to track consumer behavior driven by the big screen in the living room. Now imagine measuring the effect of an ad on dozens or hundreds of people – who knows? – sitting in a theater.

NCM has used panel-based matching in the past, Singh said, for attribution.

But NCMx marks the first time the company can tie deterministic exposure data into audience segments. With a first-party data asset – including data from proprietary mobile apps, loyalty card memberships and anonymized geographical data and device IDs – NCM can track signals down the purchase funnel, she said, from foot traffic and page visits to app downloads and transactions. Then, NCM can share the aggregate data with third-party attribution partners (such as Catalina) to connect exposures to real-life conversions.

The attribution capabilities were also part of NCM’s growth plan prior to the pandemic and shift to first-party data services.

Take two

NCM’s media business began as pre-roll ads on theater screens. And that’s still the business.

NCM tested more differentiated pre-roll placements in theaters, but didn’t reach a full rollout before the pandemic hit, Singh said. Now, the company is refocused on implementing “lights-down” segments as well as the coveted ad slot between trailers and showtime.

Attribution is also interwoven with the NCMx retargeting solution.

Retargeting is a boon for NCMx because campaigns are no longer bound to the “must-see window” in theaters, Singh said.

Advertisers can connect the theater audiences to site traffic or sales. Instead of patching together ways to retarget moviegoers “out in the wild,” she said, brands can now retarget their audiences more efficiently in the real world while they’re “in the mindset of making a purchase.”


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