U gets permanent ads on sites

America Online has agreed to form a wide-ranging marketing alliance with Universal Pictures in AOL’s first partnership with a major studio since the online giant announced its plans to merge with Time Warner Inc.

Under the pact, Universal will become a top-tier anchor tenant on AOL Moviefone and receive permanent placement at all major AOL sites, making it simpler for online customers to buy tickets to the studio’s films. AOL users will also be able to see coming attractions, photos, casts, release dates and storylines for Universal films.

“This marketing partnership with AOL is an example of Universal’s commitment to be on the forefront of Internet marketing opportunities,” said Marc Shmuger, president of Universal Pictures Marketing. “This unique alliance with AOL gives Universal Pictures a competitive advantage in the fastest growing medium of our time.”

Terms of the deal, finalized Thursday after negotiations that began last year, were not disclosed. But the partnership is notable in that Universal will be using the world’s biggest online service and media company — one that owns Warner Bros. and New Line Cinema — to market its movies.

“Universal is fully ahead of the curve in fully recognizing the promotional power of the interactive medium and we look forward to putting the full promotional power of America Online and AOL Moviefone behind Universal initiatives,” said Ted Leonsis, president of AOL Interactive Properties. “This is a win-win for Universal and AOL. Universal is getting their message out to the right audience and AOL members and users are getting fast and convenient information on the movies they want to see.”

Shmuger said Universal and AOL had already teamed successfully on promotions for “End of Days” and “Erin Brockovich” and contended that the studio has been among the most active in pushing its marketing onto the Web. “We’ve been particularly aggressive in this area because we believe in its long-term potential,” he added.

The Time Warner-AOL deal, announced Jan. 10, has provoked concern among consumer groups and industry executives that the resulting media giant will have a competitive edge by favoring its own content over that originating from rivals. But since the merger announcement, AOL chief executive Steve Case and Time Warner chairman Gerald Levin have promised that the combined AOL Time Warner would carry a variety of content on their systems.

Earlier this week, AOL reported that its flagship service has more than 22 million subscribers who use it for an average of 65 minutes per day. AOL also attracts half of all first-time Internet users.

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