AT&T finds reception it wants on the big screen > By Sanford Nowlin, Houston Chronicle

SAN ANTONIO – Moviegoers have been seeing a lot of AT&T lately.

The telecom titan is sponsoring a series of pre-movie announcements where well-known directors urge audience members to quiet their cell phones. Maybe you’ve seen the one where Goodfellas director Martin Scorsese barges into a family’s home to tell a woman how she should act while on the phone with her husband. Or the others, which feature actor/directors Sydney Pollack and Forest Whitaker in similar scenarios.

At the end of the 30-second spots, the message is spelled out atop an orange AT&T logo: “We don’t interrupt your phone calls. Please don’t interrupt our movies.”

The announcements now running on Regal Entertainment Group’s 15,000 U.S. screens have been so successful that San Antonio-based AT&T is thinking of expanding them, officials said. Indeed, the company is considering a boost in cinema advertising in general.

“The audience likes them; we’ve had a positive response,” said Daryl Evans, vice president of advertising for AT&T’s wireless division.

AT&T wouldn’t disclose how much it’s paying for the announcements.

Of course, AT&T isn’t alone in exploring movie houses as ad venues. Theater advertising rose to $455.6 million in 2006, the most recent year for which data is available, according to the Cinema Advertising Council. That’s up 15 percent from the previous year. Eager to make up for flat ticket sales, cinema operators are inserting more local and national ads in the reel that theaters run before they show trailers, analysts said.

“Your audience can’t change the channel,” said Cliff Marks, president of Colorado-based National CineMedia, which provides digital movie ads for theater chains including Regal and AMC Entertainment.

Even so, advertisers can wear out their welcome if they fail to keep audiences engaged in their on-screen commercials, said Harvey Hoffenberg, president of Connecticut-based brand consultant Propulsion.

AT&T’s spots have been successful because they’re engaging and fun, he adds. And they bear a message that moviegoers can get behind: Use your phone responsibly.