This is unbelievable. Though I suppose it was just a matter of time before the Hollywood moguls figured out a way to get their hands on some of that U.S. goverment bailout money, albeit indirectly. But why in the world are American taxpayers helping foot the bill to promote a big-budget 3-D DreamWorks Animation movie? Well, it appears the reason is because the president of the Jeffrey Katzenberg-led Hollywood animation studio just happens to be Bank of America’s former Vice Chairman and CFO.

It took respected media analyst Rich Greenfield of Pali Research to uncover this staggering scheme (registration required). He found out that Bank of America was helping families to see Monsters vs Aliens in 3-D rather than 2-D at no additional cost when it starts playing in theaters on Friday, March 27th. (The promotion is here.) And at the same time helping out the box office grosses of Katzenberg’s DreamWorks Animation, a publicly traded company.

“Why Bank of America?,” Greenfield asks in a report posted this morning. “We have not seen any formal announcement about the Bank of America/[DWA] promotion beyond an increasing number of consumers discussing the promotion link on Twitter. However, we find it odd that a bank that just received $45 bn [billion] in government aid is paying for consumers across the US to see a movie in 3-D vs. 2-D at no extra cost. We also wonder whether the presence of DWA’s President, Lew Coleman, helped DWA convince Bank of America to enter into the promotion, as Coleman is a former Vice Chairman and CFO of Bank of America.”

Greenfield found a .pdf for next weekend’s Bank of America offer which says it is limited to its customers (credit card, banking, etc). But he also discovered that the online system allows anybody to participate as long as they have an e-mail address. Consumers can receive up to 4 certificates per e-mail address to upgrade from 2-D to 3-D via the online registration form. However, Imax and AMC theaters are excluded from the promo.

“If MvA [Monsters vs Aliens] skews heavily toward 3D tickets due to Bank of America subsidizing the incremental 3-D cost (only valid on opening weekend), we believe the odds are increasing that MvA will outperform our opening weekend box office expectation of $55 mm [million].” Greenfield predicts.

This week, Pali Research calculated that Dreamworks Animation is getting an average 3-D upcharge of $3.18 for Monsters vs. Aliens as opposed to the cost of an average 2-D ticket. “While the 3-D premium was less than DWA management expected, we believe the real driver of the effective premium will be driven by the percentage of attendees who pay to see the movie in 3-D vs. 2-D (as we presume the 2,000 3D screens will be in greater demand than the 5,000+ 2-D screens),” Greenfield writes. “We are increasingly confident that there will be a significantly higher percentage of MvA attendees at 3-D screens, as Bank of America has apparently agreed to fund the incremental cost of a 3-D ticket.”

According to Greenfield, the reward certificate provides a $2-$5 value, but he couldn’t find a premium above $4.

What’s incredible here is that DreamWorks Animation has been spending a fortune to market Monsters vs Aliens. The campaign included a widely seen 3-D tie-in with NBC during the Super Bowl broadcast on that network. I was told that DWA footed $9 million of the cost of that spot what with the cost of the NBC ad, the 3-D glasses, the technology, etc. I wrote back in January that it was a colossal waste of money. Because the movie looked like a mess.

But now it’ll be U.S. taxpayers who’ll give thumbs up or thumbs down to this deal.

  1. ‘Monsters vs Aliens’ DWA’s 4th Franchise?
  2. Throwing $9 Million Down The Drain