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U bows Web site to integrate marketing efforts

In a bid to bridge the gap between distribution and exhibition (and save money in the process), Universal is set to unveil a Web site that the studio says will better integrate both sides’ movie marketing efforts.

Official announcement of the Universal Pictures Extranet launch is expected Thursday, the final day of ShoWest. Confab kicks off today in Las Vegas with a slate of overseas-oriented events dubbed International Day.

U said the new site, which bows Friday, is the first to allow exhibs — from individual theater operators to corporate execs — to dip into a vast pool of marketing materials provided by distribs and marketeers. The studio estimates that it could save 15%-20% in the first six months on the cost of sending promo items to exhibs such as advertising images, standees and trailers.

Exhibs eye site

At no fee, exhibs will be able to log on and learn release dates of upcoming pics, order lobby publicity goods and download trailers. Extranet will work in concert with a separate U site dedicated to box office data. A foreign component is also planned.

“We want to make getting material from Universal easier than for any other studio,” Alan Sutton, senior VP of marketing and distribution, told Daily Variety. “The idea is to improve communication and streamline the business process,” he explained.

“It’s purely a communication tool,” U director of new media Wendy Feldman said. “And it’s 24 hours and seven days a week. People can come in and use it as often as they want.”

National Amusements, the Dedham, Mass.-based theater circuit owned by Sumner Redstone, helped Universal test the new site and gave it good early reviews.

A new ‘ease’

Distribs and exhibs “are really all in the same game, and this brings a new level of ease,” said John Moulton, National’s assistant VP of domestic advertising. “The number of man-hours will be cut dramatically, and we’ll be implementing everything much quicker.”

In a curious twist, U gave the new Web effort the domain name http://www.exhibitorrelations.com. Exhibitor Relations, a provider of box office and movie theater data since 1974, does not have its own Web site.

Sutton shrugged off the similarity, saying major studios all have exhibitor relations departments. “It’s a generic term,” he said.

In a demonstration for Daily Variety, the site ran smoothly. Devoid of the dazzling graphics and multimedia content offered by sites devoted to specific movies, Extranet has a clean, straightforward look.

To Nikki Rocco, U’s no-nonsense distrib chief, that simplicity is no accident.

“It’s efficient, it’s accurate and it’s cost effective, and I know exhibition is going to embrace it,” she said. “The Internet is changing everything we do, and Universal’s at the forefront.”

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