Portals make big plays for pix

Netcos grow outreach efforts to Hollywood marketers

TIP SHEET
PORTAL: AOL Moviefone (www.moviefone.com)
REACH: 12.5 million uniques
UNIQUE OFFERING: “Unscripted,” where the co-stars of a particular film ask each other questions submitted by fans
SUMMARY: While the rest of America Online is still in the process of working its way out to the larger Web from behind its subscribers-only “walled garden,” Moviefone is AOL’s most Web friendly property. With a name that goes all the way back to the days of phone ticketing in the early ’90s, AOL benefits from the ‘Net’s biggest movie brand, but is still building a complete broadband portal to give advertisers a wider offering.

PORTAL: Yahoo! Movie (movies.yahoo.com)
REACH: 9.8 million uniques
UNIQUE OFFERING: “My Movies” personalized recommendations
SUMMARY: As the movies site for the Web’s powerhouse portal, Yahoo Movies benefits from tremendous inbound traffic from the Yahoo network and the biggest range of advertising opportunities for studio marketers. It’s the only portal to have all of its entertainment operations in L.A. And with former WB topper Terry Semel in charge of the company, you know it’s Hollywood savvy.

PORTAL: MSN Movies (movies.msn.com)
REACH: 8.6 million uniques
UNIQUE OFFERING: Sponsored movie environments for blogs, IMs, etc.
SUMMARY: As the smallest of the big three portals, MSN tends to get short shrift, but studio insiders say the portal is increasing its efforts to make nice with Hollywood and catch up to its bigger competitors. It’s clean site features news, clips and showtimes without the extras that crowd Yahoo’s and AOL’s pages.

PORTAL: Google (www.google.com)
REACH: n/a
UNIQUE OFFERING: searches for movie titles render a page full of reviews and showtimes
SUMMARY: Google is trying to teach Hollywood that search matters. The newly public company now works with studios to ensure that when users see an offline publicity campaign for a movie and then conduct an online search, they’ll be directed to content that will ultimately get their butts into seats or their hands on a DVD. Google is developing unique movie info pages where it will undoubtedly soon try to attract more showbiz marketing coin.

Digital is back.

While most other studio ad categories are stable or falling, the typical Internet outlay for a pic grew from $453,000 in 2003 to $730,000 in 2004, according to Motion Picture Assn. of America data, marking the category’s biggest jump since the dot-com boom in 2001. For tentpoles, online marketing campaigns easily reach into the low seven figures.

It’s still peanuts compared with the tens of millions that can be spent on TV and outdoor ads. But if there’s anything that big public companies like, it’s growth. That’s why all the major online media companies, including Yahoo, Time Warner’s America Online, Microsoft’s MSN and newcomer Google — which together control the bulk of movie ads on the Web — are all growing their outreach efforts to Hollywood marketers.

Most studios already blanket the Web with ads in the week before a pic opens, hoping to catch consumers as they make weekend plans and look up showtimes. To get more marketing coin, portals are looking to get Hollywood to open its purse earlier.

“We’re focused now on early awareness and the stage where people do initial research on a film, because that’s where most of our growth has been,” says Vince Messina, category development officer for entertainment at Yahoo.

To draw users in to see the growing number of ads, Netcos are increasingly competitive on the content front, hoping to differentiate the largely similar offerings on AOL, Yahoo and MSN.

That’s one of the main reasons why Yahoo, currently the biggest Web portal, has moved all its content operations to a new office in Santa Monica, Calif., under the leadership of former ABC Entertainment prexy Lloyd Braun.

But while the portals are spending more to create their own video content, much of it still comes from the studios. Film marketers typically make the portals bid for exclusive access to media that they know will draw big traffic, like a new trailer or behind-the-scenes footage.

Moviefone’s deal with Lucasfilm, for instance, made it the first portal to show the “Revenge of the Sith” trailer, giving it a leg up on competitors.

But because studios now provide so much of movie content that’s on the Web, it makes it harder for portals to persuade them to pay to run ads. Why pay when portal editorial teams are begging to show a trailer, clips and photos for free?

“Certain things are truly content, and we’re producing more of it on our own. But other stuff like trailers can fall in an in-between space,” notes Moviefone topper Stephen Yee.

Meanwhile, the big portals are selling studios on ads across their network. That’s particularly true for AOL, which is in the midst of a re-launch of all its properties on the open Web, where it hopes to better compete for ad dollars with Yahoo and MSN.

“Studios are increasingly looking to reach people across our network, particularly with customizable content for MSN Spaces and instant messaging, where users engage with the content and you get that viral word of mouth going,” observes James Aguilar, director of the motion picture marketing group at MSN.

Hollywood is even starting to look at an area where it traditionally hasn’t advertised: search.

Insiders admit it can be harder to design a search campaign for a pic — where advertisers buy keywords on a search engine — but they’re increasingly trying to figure out the space.

Just over a year ago, Google founded an entertainment unit to reach out to the industry and help movie marketers design search campaigns. It recently launched test versions of a video search product featuring movie showtimes and review compilations. This, of course, will undoubtedly be used in the near future to start drawing more Hollywood coin.

Increasingly in the weeks before a movie launch, studios are buying keywords, including the genre of their films, the names of stars, and even words related to the titles of competing films whose auds they hope to draw.

“The biggest ‘a ha!’ for studios is that they’re spending millions to brand a film and drive people to a search engine to find more information on it,” says Google entertainment ad group topper Chris Heldman. “They need a consistent message in search to reinforce branding elsewhere.”

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