Twitter, iPhone promote new films

Business embraces new marketing technology

Twitter and iPhone, both complete unknowns two years ago, are the new stars of the entertainment marketing world.

Twitter passed 10 million users last month — thanks in part to Oprah and to the Ashton Kutcher-CNN battle to hit the million-followers mark. Apple has sold more than 37 million iPhone and iPod touch devices that have seen more than a billion applications downloaded.

These are examples of just how quickly new platforms are emerging — and posing challenges to entertainment marketing. As Peter Adee of Overture Films explains, “There is a certain level of chaos with all the new technologies, but to me, Twitter was a really good way to talk to the people who are really interested in our product.”

Overture is one of many companies using Twitter. As of this writing, four of the six major studios have Twitter accounts to promote upcoming films.

Overture’s horror-thriller “The Crazies” was the first film to award a trip to the set and a walk-on role to a “follower,” and the first to have official tweets from the film’s stars, Danielle Panabaker and Joe Anderson. This pushed “The Crazies” Twitter page up to 2,300 followers — a healthy number for a film that opens in 2010.

“Those early adopters are the ones that are the most rabid fans of this genre, and they will be the ones who go see the film on opening weekend,” says Adee.

Twitter is perfect for the tech-savvy celebrity, believes “Heroes” star Greg Grunberg, who uses it to talk with fans. “I love that one-on-one-connection,” he says, but tells a cautionary tale: Fans misinterpreted a tweet about the end of the season and thought the show had been canceled. “It forced NBC to announce the pickup of the show earlier than they wanted to.”

Ian Schafer of interactive agency Deep Focus uses Twitter to gauge reactions for client HBO. “You can learn just as much by listening to conversations as by actually being part of them,” he says. “We’re able to see which shows have the most buzz.”

Speaking of buzz, Sony Pictures Intl. generated a lot of it with the “Terminator Salvation Twitter Game.” Also for “Terminator Salvation,” Warner Bros. has released the app “Terminate Me,” which allows users to turn themselves into terminators.

Warner Bros. has also launched paid and free apps for “The Dark Knight” and “Watchmen.”

For “Fast and Furious,” Universal promoted a free movie-themed app, built by Visionaire Group, and a paid game, licensed and built by I-play.

IPhone has emerged as an equally good way to take advantage of a property’s fanbase. “Getting involved in the iPhone app market will prepare you for the app world (with) people customizing all of their own devices, including television,” says Schafer.

What’s next? Apple’s iPhone will ship to China this year, and iPhone 3.0 arrives in June — as does Google’s Android. Nokia will launch its app store to compete with app stores by iTunes, BlackBerry and Google. Stay tuned.