Mobile promos, content give studios direct line to moviegoers

With a wave of its little antennae, the small but mighty cell phone is ready to change the way Hollywood promotes its film and TV properties to audiences.

Major wireless carriers Cingular, Sprint and Verizon all featured content inspired by many of the season’s biggest films.

Fox releases “Star Wars: Episode III — Revenge of the Sith” and “Fantastic Four,” and Par/DreamWorks’ “War of the Worlds” all debuted to the sound of ringtone fanfare.

The upcoming campaign for Universal’s remake of “King Kong” also will feature a movie-inspired game for mobile users.

This different content reflects the sensibilities of a new group of entertainment users and is an effective promotions avenue.

“Sitting and watching television and seeing commercials was a very natural way for one generation to get information about a movie, but it’s different now,” says Jim Ward, senior VP of Lucasfilm. “The new group of moviegoers digest media in a different way that isn’t that passive, and the cell phone is a much more active way to engage people.”

The games often mimic the sensibilities of the film or show that inspired them. The “War of the Worlds” game featured an action/adventure approach and the new game inspired by Fox skein “The OC” will entwine players in the intricate social scene from the program.

“It’s a Sims-style gaming experience, where the player can move freely through a simulated ‘OC’ environment,” says Michel Guillemot, prexy of Gameloft, the company behind the game’s design.

Producers like this kind of promotion because they believe it involves people with the show even when they’re not watching it.

Playing with viewers

“With these games, we have the ability to reach out to a younger demographic and really speak to their generation,” says Harry Friedman, executive producer of Sony gameshow staples “Wheel of Fortune” and “Jeopardy!”

While it’s unclear whether this increases viewership or sells movie tickets, research done by M:Metrics, a company specializing in measuring consumer consumption of mobile content, shows the most avid downloaders of ringtones are the attractive 18- to 24-year-old demographic.

Promotion isn’t the only advantage to a game or ringtone generated from a film. Each download is done for a small charge, after all.

“It’s an opportunity for a studio to create revenue through these digital assets,” says Jeff Hallock, VP consumer product marketing for Sprint Nextel Corp. “It’s also been significant for us because of the average $60 per subscriber charge Sprint Nextel takes in. $6.50 of that is data-related — meaning it comes from games and other content, and that’s helped us since voice-yield revenue has been on the decline.”

The success of a game or ringtone depends on the property itself and the quality of the download.

“It needs to be a film or show that’s very popular already or a very good game to really work,” says Hallock.

Growth may be slow

Widespread wireless delivery of video content — movie trailers and other promotions — still could take awhile.

Of the more than 195 million wireless subscribers, fewer than 1 million view video clips on their phones at this point, according to M:Metrics.

“The consumer electronics curve that we saw with the DVD player applies here,” says Tom Ellsworth, chief strategy officer for GoTV, a company that produces content like abbreviated versions of “Desperate Housewives,” “Alias” and “Lost” that summarize plots for busy wireless users.

“I see the holiday season of 2006 as a defining moment, where you’ll have several carriers offering video-capable phones in the price range of $100 to $125, and people will start thinking that’s not such a bad price so they’ll jump in.”

This new type of marketing won’t replace conventional strategies yet.

“It’s just one part of a palette of tools that you have,” says Ward. “It’s not the only thing that you should do, but this is the way this generation digests media.”

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