When it comes to media buys, overall spending is down -- but niche dollars are eating a bigger portion of the pie.

At long last, after years of spiraling costs, the good news is in: Marketing expenses for studio feature films are finally down.

That's what newly named MPAA president and CEO Dan Glickman told exhibitors during his ShoWest debut in March, announcing that the average amount of money spent to market a major-studio movie had plunged to $34.4 million in 2004, down 12% from $39 million the previous year.

The latest Nielsen Monitor-Plus data provide confirmation: While those numbers account only for media buys and present a less-rosy picture than Glickman's, the downward trend is undeniable. (Media buys are expenditures for advertising on television, in newspapers, etc., and do not include studio salaries, hotel rooms for stars and the myriad other expenses that usually come with marketing.)

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Warner Bros. Pictures emerged atop the major-studio pile in 2004 with $512.3 million in total media buys for 42 films (by comparison, Warners spent $476.2 million on media buys in 2003). Running a close second was Buena Vista with $503.7 million for 30 films (compared with $441.7 million the previous year), followed by Sony with $446.7 million for 65 films (vs. a top-ranking $554 million in 2003). At the bottom of the pile was MGM, which spent only $110.5 million -- hardly surprising because of that studio's reduced release slate and the winding-down of its operations.