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Six Questions: Thomas Gewecke, President of Warner Bros. Digital Distribution, and Flixster Co-founder Joe Greenstein

6 May, 2011 By: Erik Gruenwedel

Warner Bros. Home Entertainment Group’s May 4 acquisition of movie-discovery site Flixster.com and movie-review subsidiary RottenTomatoes.com marked the studio’s shrewd effort to promote digital sellthrough by targeting the sites’ savvy unique-user base of 25 million.

An early proponent of transactional video-on-demand on street date with packaged media, and champion of premium VOD, Warner also intends to use the properties to help launch a cloud-based consumer app, dubbed “digital everywhere.” The app would work in unison with pending industry effort UltraViolet, allowing consumers to purchase packaged media and access a digital copy to any compatible media device.

Home Media Magazine talked to Flixster co-founder and CEO Joe Greenstein and Thomas Gewecke, president of Warner Bros. Digital Distribution, to find out more about the transaction.

HM: Can Flixster/Rotten Tomatoes retain its ratings independence after being bought by a studio?

Greenstein: There are a couple of easy ways to think about that. Rotten Tomatoes was owned by a studio (actually News Corp. unit IGN Entertainment) until 14 months ago. It built its reputation from being accurate and unbiased. Well, there are other examples like TMZ, which is actually owned Warner Bros. I think no one would accuse TMZ of being gentle on anyone in the industry. We have a strong commitment from everybody at Warner Bros. and a strong understanding that this cannot be successful if it is not independent.

HM: Warner has been at the forefront pushing digital distribution of its movies, including street date availability of new releases on VOD with DVD. How will Flixster help Warner achieve the next step: electronic sellthrough?

Greenstein: The next step in electronic sellthrough is a great consumer experience across all of the different devices and use cases where people want to interact with the content. VOD used to be sort of a clunky, click-through experience that was closely tied to only what your cable operator happened to be showing that month. What people want now is a modern Web app, touch, visual display with personalized and social recommendations. And they want it on their TV, their tablet, their smartphone and everywhere they go. That’s the promise of what EST in a digitally connected world should be.

HM: Are the majority of Flixster’s registered users opting for Rotten Tomatoes, or is that ratings site separate? And if separate, how does Flixster translate users seeking movie trailers, trivia and community into retail buyers of content?

Greenstein: Actually, Flixster started its life six years ago as a social community for movie enthusiasts. While we still have a lot of movie enthusiasts on the service, in the vast majority of these cases, we are the leading movie decision-making utility. We think that’s going to be the perfect end to making a digital movie delivery service.

HM: Considering Warner’s foray into test renting select movies through Facebook, will Flixster/Rotten Tomatoes soon offer transactional VOD of Warner titles? Would you ever consider subscription VOD service similar to Netflix?

Gewecke: What we could say is that Flixster has a strong presence on Facebook and has been a long-standing pioneer in terms of looking at ways to use the platform and innovate on that platform. And that’s an exciting opportunity going forward.

HM: Physical product has transformed back to its rental roots, notably in kiosks and by-mail subscription. Can Flixster/Rotten Tomatoes help Warner sell Blu-ray Disc/DVD titles?

Greenstein: I would argue that Flixster already does. Over 25 million people start a movie [watching] decision process using our applications every month. A lot of them end up with their butts in the theater, and a hefty percentage of them end up buying or renting a Blu-ray and watching at home. I don’t think there are any plans in the near future to start selling and shipping physical media.

HM: How will Warner incorporate Flixster into “digital everywhere”? How do you educate or convince the consumer about cloud-based storage lockers?

Gewecke: I think Joe put it really well a few minutes ago when he said Flixster is a place where people go to make decisions about what movies to watch and buy — to find out information and what their friends are doing. We think that is the perfect environment for an independent, studio-agnostic platform for introducing consumers to new services. And we look at strategies like “digital everywhere,” which have at their root the idea of helping consumers to create, manage and use video collections, as the platform for more discovery and more social interaction. We think taking services like that and making them available to a huge audience of movie enthusiasts is a really strong strategy and a great way to bring those services into the marketplace.

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