Web Growing as Movie Marketing Medium

The Internet is "more than a marketing medium---it's a revenue stream," says New Line Cinema's Gordon Paddison, one of a growing army of Hollywood promoters who are using the Internet to build interest in current films as well as those that are about to be released. Paddison has run several promotions on Yahoo.com that have lured thousands of customers into theaters to redeem coupons available only on the Web.

Movie-related sites are among the Web's most popular areas. In addition to studio-sponsored sites, there are hundreds of amateur sites put up by devoted fans and serious repositories of information compiled by film fanatics. The Internet Movie Data Base (see previous article), perhaps the deepest of these sites, was purchased on April 27 by Amazon.com as part of its expansion strategy. Other Internet start-up projects have grown into huge commercial successes. For example, Hollywood Online, an independent movie-guide site, was purchased from its founders by Times Mirror Corporation two years ago.

Last Thursday, July 30, Oregon-based Hollywood Entertainment, operator of the 1000-store Hollywood Video chain, acquired Reel.com, a Berkeley, CA, online video retailer, in a cash-plus-stock deal valued at $100 million. Reel.com reportedly has a catalog of more than 80,000 titles. The pricey deal gives Hollywood Entertainment a strong foundation for the future as the delivery of movies-on-demand becomes more widespread and local video-rental outlets begin to decline. Hollywood Video is the #2 video chain in the US, second only to Blockbuster.

Film.com and Movies.com are also popular sites that let film fans read reviews, view trailers, and look up schedules for theaters close to home. Last fall, Film.com was acquired by RealNetworks, which lets netnauts see and hear movie trailers using its RealAudio and RealVideo streaming technology. In addition, ordering tickets online is a service that is just beginning to be introduced on several sites.

Three-year-old Filmscouts covers film festivals like Cannes and Sundance, and it averages 100,000 hits per day, according to filmmaker and company founder Mayra Langdon Riesman. Filmscouts has logged as many as 1.7 million hits in a single day during a big festival. "Everyone told me I was crazy to put video on the Internet. I didn't listen." Riesman says.

The film industry jumped into Web promotions after the unexpected success of Stargate, which won converts via the Internet. Early efforts were full of expensive gimmicks, such as interactive games, that took too long to download or were riddled with bugs. The tendency now is to design clean, easy-to-use Web sites that convey as much essential information as possible with minimum effort required of consumers.

According to Stuart Halperin of Hollywood Online, who spoke at last week's Herring on Hollywood confab in Santa Monica, CA, "Studios are toning down their process. They're realizing they can get a similar product out there for a lot less money. People like the ease of use. That's an important factor."

Halperin is right, but some studio efforts can approach the scale of IMDB. Disney Pictures has children's interactive games and fan mail activities at its Mulan site, and Sony Pictures Entertainment has a monster site for Godzilla.