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Studios Look to the Web For That Extra Home Video Marketing Push

7 Dec, 2001 By: John Jimenez

Late last month, Disney Online captured four Web Awards in the fifth annual competition sponsored by the Web Marketing Association. It was testament to Disney's commitment to the online platform as a marketing tool. The success of that megasite, and many others sponsored by Hollywood's leading stuidios and independents, demonstrates that the online environment is a rich opportunity to driving theater audience and home video sales.

Among Disney's awards was one for “Best Movie Web Site” which actualy turned out to be the promotion site for the DVD release of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (see www.disney.go.com/disneyvideos).

The large site is an ambitious combination of movie and character information, games and activities, video clips, demos of the DVD's features and a host of other interactive extras. Disney also included a printable “Buy 3 Get One Free”rebate coupon

According to John Flynn, director of marketing communications for Buena Vista Home Entertainment, planning for the site began almost a year ago, and was rolled out, in stages, beginning in July.

“The Internet is the perfect forum to introduce the DVD formnat to our audience, many of whom still have VHS players, so that they can experience the content of a DVD,” Flynn says. “There's so much content on DVD that it's difficult to communicate that in a 60-second television spot.”

According to Flynn, more than 1 million visitors have visited the Snow White site in September and October (no numbers yet for November), and as the “offline” marketing campaign for the title has been heating up, he expects November traffic to have been at least as significant.

The challenge with any advertising or marketing is to prove its effectiveness toward revenue generation. “We look at our Web site as a part of our overall marketing strategy,” Flynn says. “So we don't have data that could show that sort of specific [sellthrough sales] impact. But because the Web site does come out well before the print and television side of the promotions, you can generate early buzz and we have certainly been able to see that with this Web site.”

Studios know that seeking out entertainment information is among the top reasons why consumers go online in the first place. Consider that 72 percent of the Web users in July visited an entertainment site, making entertainment the most visited category for that month, according to Nielsen//NetRatings. Web sites for major theatrical releases (which often cross promote other upcoming theatrical and home video releases) regularly ratchet up huge traffic counts of 1 million to 2 million unique visitors a month.

“[The Internet] is really a great medium to reach a specific demographic,” says Duncan Plexico, 20th Century Fox's director of online marketing.

Fox's Internet campaign varies with each title promoted, Plexico says. The studio will often use banner advertising, anything from a static banner to a streaming media banner, which allows users to actually see a clip of the film. Fox also uses targeted e-mail as part of its campaign, as well as a promotional tie-in if it's relevant.

Paramount Home Entertainment is also taking its marketing dollars online. Though Paramount has typically relied on other media, such as print, television and radio, publicist Martin Blythe says the studio is beginning to find the Internet “an absolutely invaluable tool in the publicity area.”

Paramount sent out a mass e-mail to build awareness for its “Forrest Gump Fun Run,” coinciding with the special edition DVD release of the title, and often streams clips for titles, which usually containing director commentary, on e-tail sites.

“It's all about teasing the audience,” says Blythe. Paramount's online campaign usually begins one or two months before street date.

The most prevelant tool for studios is a Web site dedicated to an upcoming film. “Web sites for films created by the studios are a very important part of their Internet strategy,” says Jarvis Mak, a senior analyst for Nielson//NetRatings.

Fox especially takes advantage of this tactic, building sites for “typically every title,” says Plexico, including catalog titles that get the five-star treatment, such as the recent Die Hard releases.

Cast Away was another title that got prime Web exposure. “[With the Cast Away site], the intent was to reconnect with viewers that saw it in theaters,” Plexico says. “We wanted to develop a sense of community.”

Fox did that by creating an “Island Challenge” with questions determining how long users would last on a deserted island, a “Wilson's Travel Diary” e-card and a sweepstakes offering a one-week adventure for the winners to test their survival skills in the Mexican desert.

Warner Home Video has a unique opportunity to use the Web since the merger with internet service provider America Online, which often features Warner titles on its home page.

“We can cover just about everybody we want to reach through AOL,” says Warner v.p. of Internet marketing Jim Wuthrich.

Warner begins advertising for home video on a film's theatrical site, which gets converted to a home video site when the release draws near.

“We've found that the Web works very well for some of our niche titles,” Wuthrich says.

Warner was able to use the Web to promote its Academy Award-winning documentary Into the Arms of Strangers directly to Jewish groups with Flash-enabled e-mails that told the story of the film.

E-tailer Amazon.com is a popular site for Internet advertising. The site often offers clickthrough buttons that give viewers access to streaming video clips and interviews with directors and stars.

Offering scenes from The Blair Witch Project that were not in the theatrical version was very popular, says general manager of Amazon.com in theaters Eugene Wei. The site also had a mock interview with Woody from Toy Story that went over well with consumers, he says.

Though the site doesn't run banner ads as a format, Amazon can often be creative with bundle deals, for example offering Gladiator with Spartacus, or highlighting studio packages. The possibilities are endless online, says Wei, whereas in stores, they are limited because titles actually have to be packaged together ahead of time.

“There are a lot of different ways we can generate buzz for movies,” says Wei, adding that Amazon considers the studios its partners in the endeavor. “We both want to capitalize on the interactivity of the Internet.”

He says that while online marketing is “a new area that [studios] are still working on exploring,” they are definitely recognizing the benefits, particularly the smaller ones. “Small titles benefit disproportionately on our site in terms of reaching customers,” he says.

Paramount's Blythe, however, says the studio is more likely to invest in Web advertising for its bigger titles.

Peter M. Bracke, the editor of DVDFile.com, questions studios' commitment to Web advertising. And indeed, what Hollywood spends online pales in comparison to other categories such as financial services. According to Nielsen//NetRatings, of the more than 24 billion ad impressions served during the month of October, movie studios accounted for approximately 78 million of those impressions.

“Web advertising has sort of become a dirty word, so I think studios in general are cutting back,” he says. The business has varied in its advertising rate structure over the past year or more, going from a standard CPM (cost per thousand) for “impressions” of the banner ad served, to cost per times a banner ad was clicked on , to a hybrid model that often includes cost-per-click (or even a sale or some deeper transaction on the advertisers web site) and CPM.

“They want banners, but they don't want to pay unless you can prove you're making them money,” Bracke says.

Fox's Plexico appreciates the ability to track the effectiveness of Web advertising and gauge a return on investment.

But Bracke believes that assessment is false. Web ads are constantly creating impressions, he says. A variety of industry studies emanating from the Interactive Advertising Bureau have demonstrated that there is a significant relationship between someone seeing an online ad and, eventually, visiting that advertiser's Web site, he notes. Sometimes users will see an ad and then seek out the title on their own, perhaps searching for the best deal rather than using the ad banner to access a studio's site.

“You drove that sale, but they didn't click through from your site,” Bracke says.

He also encourages studios to advertise online well before street date. He notes Fox advertised Cast Away almost a month before the disc came out and it was very effective.

Amazon's Wei agrees advertising needs to start early, especially because Amazon's customers like to pre-order titles. Campaigns on Amazon typically start two to three months before street date.

Paramount's Blythe says another great service the Internet offers is the ability for fans to get feedback from studios. He recommends Hometheaterforum.com and DVDtalk.com, two sites where viewers can post concerns and ask questions and sometimes get responses from the studios themselves.

NetRatings' Mak says the Internet is a great way to market movies because users are actively seeking content and therefore pay attention to what they see.

“Movie trailers are perfect content for the Web,” he says. “The Internet audience has a very short attention span and two minutes of information is exactly what they're looking for.”

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