http://www.usatoday.com/money/media/2005-12-06-cinema-ads_x.htm By Laura Petrecca and David Lieberman, USA TODAY Moviegoers should get used to those ads shown as they settle into their seats. Ad forecasters at ZenithOptimedia said on Monday that spending on in-theater ads, usually shown before the trailers, rose by 18% this year to $400 million — and likely will go up by about 15% each year through 2008. Driving growth is digital projection that makes it easy to change ads or target ads to different audiences, says Tim Jones, CEO of ZenithOptimedia's U.S. operations. "That's directly attributable to the medium becoming more digital. It gives advertisers more options and affordability from a production standpoint." The forecast was good news for theater owners depressed by the 6% slide in box office receipts this year. To attract more ads, they've spent about $150 million in the last three years to install relatively simple digital projectors just for ads. That's ahead of the much larger investment just beginning for full digital conversion to movie-quality projectors. Regal Entertainment (RGC) has led the charge, installing digital ad gear at about 5,000 of its more than 6,500 screens in 2002 and 2003. The ad effort picked up steam in July when AMC Theaters — the No. 2 chain (and about to merge with Loews Cineplex) joined Regal to form ad sales company National CineMedia. Cinemark, the No. 3 chain, joins next month. "By the second quarter of 2006, we'll have about 10,000 digital ad screens," about 28% of the national total, says Cliff Marks, National CineMedia chief marketing officer. The typical 20-minute ad package so far looks a lot like TV. Before the trailers, Regal runs a show of ads interspersed with snippets of content about the movies called The Twenty. In January, it will be renamed First Look, and go to all National CineMedia theaters. The digital transition is attracting more big advertisers — national companies buy 75% of theater ads, Marks says. For example, Wal-Mart just made its first theater ad buy for 10,000 Regal and AMC screens. For the patron in the seats, big advertisers at least bring bigger ad budgets — and that might lead to higher-quality ads and more experimentation, such as the mini-movie ads some have produced for the Web. And it's unlikely time devoted to pre-show ads will get much longer, since it's already about as long as practical without cutting the number of movie showings. But not everyone is cheering. "I detest having to go to a theater and sit through 20 minutes of advertising," says Robert Bucksbaum, who's president of industry research firm ReelSource — and owns two theaters that don't show commercials. "But it's definitely the wave of the future."