Is there a future for Moviefone? The relic of the high-flying dot-com days is in limbo, essentially running on life support after the movie listing and news site’s parent company, Helios and Matheson Analytics, filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy last month.
Helios and Matheson went belly-up after accruing unsustainable losses from MoviePass, the now-defunct theater subscription service. Meanwhile, tucked away in the bankruptcy filing was the disclosure that the net book value of Moviefone’s intellectual property is estimated to be $4,379,504. That’s just 1.1% of AOL’s $388 million stock deal for Moviefone in 1999, right before the internet bubble burst.
While Moviefone is now worth just a pittance of its erstwhile valuation, it’s actually one of Helios and Matheson’s most valuable assets: The company reported total assets of under $10 million in the Chapter 7 filing.
Nearly all of Moviefone employees were laid off at the end of January after Helios and Matheson’s Chapter 7 filing. However, the site still has one staffer left to keep the lights on (who, for the record, is not “Seinfeld’s” Cosmo Kramer): Moviefone general manager Matt Atchity tells Variety he’s been retained by the trustee overseeing Helios and Matheson’s liquidation to keep Moviefone running pending a sale of the property.
Atchity, who also is a co-host of the “Breakfast All Day” film podcast, joined Moviefone in September 2018 after a stint as head of programming for The Young Turks and prior to that serving as editor-in-chief of Rotten Tomatoes.
The site’s current movie listings are automated, with showtimes linking directly to AMC Theatres, Regal, Cinemark and other movie theaters. Previously, Moviefone had an online-ticketing partnership with NBCUniversal’s Fandango.
Helios and Matheson acquired Moviefone in April 2018 from Verizon (which picked up the movie site via its AOL deal) for $1 million in cash, plus HMNY stock that is now worthless. After the acquisition, the company discontinued the Moviefone mobile apps — and directed users to download the MoviePass app instead. The strategy, according to MoviePass’ then-CEO Mitch Lowe, was to try to use Moviefone to boost the cinema-subscription service’s subscriber base and generate more sponsorship and marketing income.
Moviefone was founded in 1989 as a dial-up service for checking movie times, and at one point operated a nationwide toll-free number (800-777-FILM) and numbers in 67 local area codes across the U.S. In 2014, AOL shut off the phone service and tried to reposition Moviefone as a broader entertainment destination stocked with more news and other content. (Today, the 800 number, operated by XIP Services, welcomes callers 18 and older to “America’s hottest talk line.”)
The original Mr. Moviefone — co-founder Russ Leatherman — parted ways with the service in 2013. His trademark greeting (“Hello, and welcome to Moviefone!”) was memorably spoofed in an episode of “Seinfeld,” in which Kramer’s new phone number keeps getting misdialed by people trying to get movie info, whereupon he decides to impersonate Mr. Moviefone.