Studio's digital sector sees great potential in biz

Warner Bros. Digital Entertainment wants a bite of Apple’s App business. The studio is positioning itself as a major distributor of applications for the iPhone and iPod Touch.

Warner Digital Distribution director of worldwide marketing Stephanie Bohn says apps represent a profitable and fast-growing business, noting that Morgan Stanley is predicting it could reach $1 billion in sales in 2009.

“We’re more than just a film studio,” Bohn said. “We’ve established ourselves in the physical world; now we’re trying to do the same in the digital world.”

Though the studio has released several higher-profile apps tied to “Terminator Salvation” and other major film and DVD releases, it’s also working with developers on a much broader range of game, comic book and entertainment apps that aren’t tied to Warner properties.

Warner has developed and released about 15 apps so far and is planning to have a total of 40 out by the end of the year. Some will come from its theatrical unit and Warner Interactive, others by outside developers.

Warner is not alone among studios developing apps around film properties. Paramount just released “Star Trek” comic book apps with iVerse, in addition to its “Top Gun” and other movie-related game apps. Sony has an “Angels and Demons” game app, and Disney put out a Fairies game app last year tied to its DVD premiere release, “Tinker Bell.”

But Bohn said Warner wants to lead in the space. The studio’s first app was the “The Dark Knight: Batmobile” game tied to the December DVD release. This year, it put out the “Watchmen: Justice is Coming” street brawler game app, which all purchasers play together. The game runs in real time, so, for example, when a character is punched by one player, other players immediately see the bruise.

Days before “Terminator Salvation” hit theaters, Warner released a graphic novel app to get fans caught up with the latest “Terminator.” Next up are apps tied to Harry Potter and Sherlock Holmes.

The studio also is considering animated episodic video apps and other apps built around Warner brands, Bohn said.

Bohn said the studio is positioning itself as an end-to-end app distributor capable of doing everything from developing the app to getting approval from Apple to sell it in the App Store to marketing it.

Part of the appeal for developers in partnering with Warner, Bohn said, is the studio’s relationship with Apple.

“It’s difficult [for developers] to have a direct call into Apple,” Bohn said. “We spend time talking with them weekly, if not daily.”

Also appealing is Warner’s marketing muscle, which it is using to differentiate its apps through social media marketing, print and TV advertisements, and for movie apps, trailers on DVDs.

Most Warner apps sell for 99 cents, but Bohn said consumers are willing to pay more if they see value in the app. “The Terminator: Salvation Graphic Novel” app sells for $3.99 and Bohn said Warner is considering price points of $5.99, $7.99 and up for future apps.

“It doesn’t cost a lot to launch an app,” she said. “Relative to a TV show or a film, it’s nothing.”

Jennifer Netherby is a reporter for Variety sister publication Video Business.

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