Movie Marketing on the Web

Article by Anthony Leong © Copyright 1998

It's very rare these days to not have a movie hit the theaters without a web site promoting it. In the last few years, web sites have increasingly become part of the marketing mix for movie companies. Many studios are finding the cost of creating these web sites is minuscule compared to the other elements of the media mix-- $100,000 for a web site vs. tens of millions or more for a real-world media campaign. Gordon Paddison, the head of on-line marketing at New Line Cinema, told Business 2.0: "It still amazes me. We're able to create all this value for what amounts to the cost of one re-edit on a movie trailer." Furthermore, polls by Internet service providers, such as America Online are showing that there is a high correlation between Internet users and moviegoers, making web sites a targeted and cost-effective medium for creating awareness for their film properties.

Studios are also finding that they are getting greater mileage out of their web sites as their media properties move into new markets. A newspaper or television ad may be here today and gone tomorrow, but a web site will continue to generate awareness. In the area of theatrical releases, movie web sites are not only building awareness for a movie before and during the theatrical release, but they continue to promote once the mass media advertisements have stopped running and the movies have moved on to ancillary markets. For example, Sony's "Men in Black" web site ( continues to promote the 1996 blockbuster's home video run, as well as providing links to information on the spin-off animated series, the video game, and the fan magazine. Once "Men in Black 2" rolls into production, Sony plans to use the site to build up pre-release hype.

Creating Communities

In addition to generating hype, the better web sites are also enhancing the experience that visitors have with a company's media by creating on-line communities. These communities are areas where visitors can find more information, take part in interactive activities, subscribe to newsletters, and chat with other like-minded individuals, with the eventual aim of creating greater audience loyalty. One web site that excels in this respect is the web site for the NBC series "Homicide: Life on the Street" ( In addition to providing background information on the show and an episode guide, the site has been running an on-line 'series' called "Second Shift", which presents additional stories involving the series' characters. These on-line stories have also on occasion 'crossed over' with the television stories, with web visitors being led the television show and vice-versa. Another NBC series "Profiler" has also integrated its web site ( into the television show-- one episode in the previous season allowed web users to log-on during the broadcast and interact with the show's villain in real-time.

Wooing the Baby Boomers and the Baby Boom Echo

Furthermore, promotional web sites are also a good fit for wooing the two rapidly-growing web-savvy demographic groups: the Baby Boomers, and their children, the Baby Boom Echo. These two demographic groups also happen to be two of the engines driving movie ticket sales.

Baby Boomers comprise 15% of the on-line population and control a disproportionate amount of the wealth in North America. With their empty nests and higher percentage of disposable income, they have been rediscovering the moviegoing experience over the past few years. Between 1986 and 1994, the age 40 and over moviegoing audience grew from 15% to 36%, and they have been primarily responsible for the increasing popularity of the upscale and arthouse type films, such as the typical Merchant-Ivory production.

Meanwhile, the children of the Baby Boomers, the burgeoning teenage demographic, have now begun to demonstrate their enormous spending power. Currently, there are 30 million North Americans in the 12-17 year old age group and their numbers are growing, expected to swell to 55 million by the year 2005, making them the largest demographic segment of the population. You can already see their influence in television (the explosion of those live-action teen high school dramas, such as "Saved By the Bell", that slowly supplanted cartoon fare on Saturday mornings since 1992), in radio (the rise in popularity of urban dance radio) and in printed media. Their influence was most apparent in the 1997 fall film market with the domination of two low-budget horror pictures that were targeted to this group: "I Know What You Did Last Summer" and "Scream 2". "I Know What You Did Last Summer" had a cumulative domestic box office of $69 million as of December 14th, outpacing the number two hit of the fall season, "In & Out" by $7 million. "Scream 2" broke the opening weekend record for any film opening in December with a $39 million take and ended up exceeding the $103 million box office of its predecessor.

Bonus Buzz and Revenues

Some of the more interesting on-line promotions have also generated additional publicity from the mainstream media. For example, the "Starship Troopers" web site, which allowed visitors to play multi-player games and build their own web pages, generated extra awareness in newspapers, as did the Web-to-TV crossovers of "Homicide: Life on the Street".

In addition to generating awareness for a company's media properties, some companies are finding that they are able to generate additional revenues from on-line ads and sales of merchandise. For example, Jim Moloshok, the senior vice-president of corporate marketing and advertising at Warner Bros. Online, has pursued a revenue-generating model for his company's web presence, and claims that the additional ad revenues are lucrative and have grown 265% over the previous year. He also adds that the revenues from the Warner Bros. Online Store has also experienced a similar rate of growth.

There are numerous movie studio web sites in existence. The popular search engine Yahoo! lists all of these sites under: All these sites primarily serviced the consumer, though there are some sites that target other stakeholders in addition to the moviegoer, such as investors and other businesses working in cooperation with the studio.

The three major core activities that can be carried out at the typical movie web site can be categorized as:

  1. Information provision: providing product and service information, the most basic function of any web site
  2. Community creation: creating compelling content that enhances the experience of the company's products
  3. Commerce: allowing consumers to make purchases on-line

Let's take a look at how four movie web sites compare in these core activities: Disney (, Miramax (, New Line Cinema (, and Time-Warner ( and


The House of the Mouse positions its web site as 'the web site for families'. Not only does this site serve as a family activity center by creating a community around its media properties, but it also acts as a portal, or port-of-entry onto the Internet, for children and their families


The Disney web site contains a wealth of content to its customers on the world of Disney media. In addition to information on Disney movies (, the site offers programming schedules for the Disney television channel (, programming information and samples for Disney radio (, selected content from the Disney Magazine (, itinerary and contact information for Disney vacations (, plus information from all the other media venues for Disney (which includes musical theater, books, and toys).

However, the reach of the content on the Disney site is not merely limited to consumers-- other sections of the web site address specific groups of Disney stakeholders. The information resource for families ( contains valuable tips and content for parents on a wide range of issues, such as homework, parent-teacher relationships, and nutrition. The site also has a section for managing investor relations ( where shareholders can get the latest financial statements and latest investor news. Potential employees also have a part of the site dedicated to them on the recruitment page (, which not only allows applicants to search through the latest Disney job postings, but also provides resume tips and information on upcoming auditions. The education page ( serves as a resource for teachers, and it includes suggestions for classroom activities and other resources for instructors. Finally, the business information area ( serves all the business-to-business Disney stakeholders with content geared specifically towards travel agents, the press, on-line advertisers, companies interested in renting Disney's production facilities, and businesses wanting to take part in Disney's professional development programs.


The Disney site excels with respect to creating an on-line family-oriented community. Its target market, children and their parents, will find a lot of compelling content and fun activities that will keep them coming back. And if they cannot find what they are looking for, the sprawling Disney web site features its own Internet search engine called DIG ( which only brings up web sites that are suitable for general audiences (for example, searching on the word 'sex' yields nothing).

In addition to the free activities that are targeted at children, such as learning how to draw Mickey Mouse ( or being able to send postcards to friends (, the Disney site also provides family activities including suggestions on how to have a pizza party ( Parents are also offered numerous chat areas ( where they can speak with other parents on a number of different topics, from child care to homework. The Disney site even goes as far as creating communities based on geography, such as its Canadian chat area (

Because this site is targeted at children, Disney very wisely states its privacy policy up front (


Finally, the Disney site allows consumers to buy Disney merchandise, such as videos, toys, and CD-ROMs via a secure server. In addition to the usual merchandise, the on-line shop has a few novel offerings, such as personalized items (, a clearance department (, and the ability to buy passes to the theme parks ( If the visitor is buying a gift for someone, the site offers a gift finder service ( that will make suggestions based on the recipient's age, their favorite character/movie, and/or the product category. For other purchases, such as vacations and musical theater tickets, Disney does not conduct the transaction-- instead, it forwards the consumer to the applicable sales agent. And for those who prefer to shop in a real store, the Disney site also provides an application for finding the nearest real-world Disney Store (

Overall, the Disney web site was a pleasure to use, full of bright happy graphics and intuitive in its layout. The content was surprisingly comprehensive, providing families with plenty of content and activities in a safe surfing environment.


The Miramax web site had a very edgy and chic 'personality', which seems to targeted towards the 18-35 year old moviegoer. The most notable aspect of this site is that Miramax makes an effort to form a relationship with its visitors by offering a free membership to the Miramax Cafe ( By becoming a member of the Miramax Cafe, visitors are allowed to enter the numerous contests held on the site, get exclusive content (such as extra background information and production stills), and get regular e-mail updates on upcoming films.


The information provided to visitors on Miramax films and home videos includes basic background information and downloadable clips and stills (, though some 'extra' goodies are often provided on some of Miramax's more high-profile releases, such as "Rounders" ( In addition to access to more in-depth movie-related content, registered Miramax Cafe members have access to exclusive Miramax movie news (, contests (, and a utility that allows them to find out showtimes in their local theatre and order tickets on-line (

The site also has a link to its sister company Dimension Films (, which provides detailed information on that division's genre and niche offerings.


Other than the ability to order movie tickets on-line, there is very limited commerce activity on the Miramax site. This is not surprising given the nature of the films that Miramax distributes, which tend to be limited-release 'arthouse' or 'upscale' fare. The Miramax store ( does sell some merchandise, though it is usually restricted to items related to its more mainstream releases. There is also a limited amount of merchandise available at the Dimension Store (

Overall, the Miramax site is an interesting web site that attempts to create a 'cool' place for moviegoers. The content is thorough and the follow-on marketing Miramax Cafe program is also quite notable. Though the site does cater well to the 18-35 year old age group, which is one of the primary markets for Miramax's niche offerings, it may be ignoring another large group of Miramax customers: the Baby Boomers. Miramax's phenomenal growth has in part been fueled by the Baby Boomers returning en masse to the theatre, and it is Miramax's upscale and arthouse offerings that have helped to win them over.

New Line Cinema

The philosophy behind the New Line Cinema web site seems to be focused on providing supplemental material that will enhance the consumer's experience of New Line Cinema media. and create excitement for upcoming releases. This site is a portal affiliate with Netscape and Lycos, which helps the site gain visibility and drive traffic.


The New Line site provides extensive information on its theatrical releases (, including extensive background information, such as the detailed content provided on how its latest wide release "Blade" made the transition between the comic book and the big screen, or historical information on "Gone with the Wind" ( The site also moves its visitors further along the sales cycle by including an application that allows visitors to find out showtimes in their areas by entering their postal code ( Visitors can then complete the transaction by ordering tickets on-line with a credit card.

The information for its home video division is not as in-depth as the theatrical releases, but there is still quite a wealth of information provided, especially with respect to the section devoted to the growing DVD market, which points out the added features available on this format ( With respect to its television properties, New Line does not fare as well-- only highlights and sketchy background information are provided, and showtimes are not mentioned (

New Line Cinema also uses its site as a recruitment vehicle with a small section devoted to would-be employees ( The career opportunities section provides detailed listings of all open positions in both the New York and Los Angeles offices. However, unlike the Disney site, applicants cannot apply for the positions on-line-- they must fax their resumes in.

The only other section providing information to the visitor is an entire section dedicated to Freddy Kruger, the villain from the cult-horror movie franchise "Nightmare on Elm Street". Other than providing a few video clips for fans of the series (clips are only provided for the first movie in the series, and the rest are "coming soon"), this section of the web site is quite useless.


As stated earlier, the site seems to be primarily aimed at enhancing the moviegoer's experience of New Line Cinema media. The activities that are available on the site help to create a community around the various films. For example, the web site dedicated to the "Gone with the Wind" re-issue contains on-line postcards of Rhett and Scarlett that a visitor can send to a friend (, and offers a virtual panoramic tour through Scarlett's house ( The site dedicated to "Rush Hour" ( features fun activities such as a contest and a game where you have to match up lines from the movie with the actors that said the lines.

The site also practices follow-on marketing by offering visitors an e-mail subscription that will send them regular updates on upcoming releases and point out new enhancements on the site.


In addition to being able to buy movie tickets on-line, the New Line site allows visitors to buy movie-related paraphernalia at the New Line Store. Items available for sale include clothing, scripts, videos, and even Halloween costumes ( Furthermore, once the sales transaction is complete, the New Line store sends the buyer automatic e-mails providing updates on the status of the order, as well as links for tracking the shipment.

Overall, the moviegoer-focused New Line Cinema web site offered plenty of rich information with respect to its theatrical releases, and to a lesser extent, its home video releases. The New Line store had many interesting offerings that would be of high appeal to movie buffs. The only weak spot on this site was the scant information on its television properties.


Time-Warner has a number of web sites under its umbrella, offering a plethora of content on every conceivable form of mass media. Pathfinder ( is positioned as a portal, or entry way to the Internet, and is primarily focused on Time-Warner's published content. In addition to the one-stop shop for information, the site features its own search engine.

On the other hand, the Warner Bros. web site ( is focused on the other media within Time-Warner, namely theatrical films, home video, television, animation, comic books, and music. This well-traveled web site creates visibility and drives traffic through portal affiliations with America On-Line, Netscape, and Microsoft Network. According to Jim Moloshok, the senior vice-president of corporate marketing and advertising at Warner Bros. Online, the site is receiving 60-80 million page views a month, and it is their goal to make the site a portal that will serve as a point-of-entry for entertainment enthusiasts.

A series of even-more narrowly-focused web sites would be Time-Warner's newest on-line offering, Entertaindom ( which offers very focused on-line communities dedicated to movies and television (, games (, music (, and animation (


Time-Warner offers a wealth of content through its web sites, whether it be supplemental and showtime information about upcoming and in-release Warner Bros. movies (, the latest news (, financial information (, television shows (, music ( or parenting information ( Oddly enough, Time-Warner does not provide links between each of these vastly different sites-- if a consumer at the Pathfinder site is interested in finding out more about a movie, such as "Lethal Weapon 4", the Pathfinder site does not direct the visitor to anything on the Warner Bros. site. Similarly, no links are provided on the Warner Bros. sites to published content on the Pathfinder site.


The creation of communities is probably the strongest point of the Time-Warner web sites. Pathfinder has created a point-of-entry for Internet users, by offering e-mail (, chat areas on numerous topics (, news, and an Internet search engine.

The Warner Bros. site has sprung up numerous communities dedicated to each one of its movies and television shows. Each of these communities feature their very own chat areas, activities, and supplemental content. For example, the Official "Friends" Site ( allows visitors to create their own "Friends" home pages with up to 20MB of web server space (, subscribe to a behind-the-scenes newsletter (, and chat with other "Friends" fans. In addition to show- or movie-specific communities, there are communities with games and activities for children (, and the very focused communities found with in Entertaindom.


Time-Warner takes two approaches to conducting commerce on its web sites. On the Pathfinder site, in addition to taking magazine subscription orders on-line, Time-Warner sells real estate on its home page to Internet merchants Barnes & Noble, Cyberian Outpost, and Total E. On the other hand, the Warner Bros. site has its own Warner Bros. On-line Store ( where visitors can buy clothing, toys, and collectibles. They can also check the status of orders that have already been placed ( Like Disney, Warner Bros. also offers a store locator application to help visitors find the nearest real-world Warner Bros. Store (

The web sites produced by Time-Warner are purely consumer-driven-- all other content, such as information for investors or job-seekers is placed on a separate corporate home page ( They have focused their efforts on creating interesting and well-designed communities around their media properties. Whether print, film, television, or music, the wealth of material and high level of interactivity make these destination sites for the entertainment enthusiast.


So, how do these movie sites stack up?

Of the four web sites examined, Disney and Time-Warner have probably created the most well-rounded web sites that not only enhance the consumer's experience with their media properties, but are comprehensive enough to serve as standalone sites. With their constantly updated and compelling content, they also provide a destination site that consumers would be inclined to check out on a regular basis. Furthermore, these sites also give visitors a chance to keep a 'momento' of their visit by either shopping in their on-line stores, or through an interactive activity, whether it be creating a "Friends" home page or printing off a Disney coloring page. Finally, the Disney and Time-Warner sites also help to drive the consumer through the sales cycle by providing both a wealth of product information (background information on a movie) and an opportunity to complete the sale, whether it be through an on-line transaction (ticket sales), or pointing to a source for demand fulfillment in the real world (travel agent).

For more examples of what other web sites in the entertainment industry are doing, take a look at the Web Diamonds Entertainment Industry Tour ( and the Web Diamonds Media Entertainment Industry Tour (

Further Reading

  1. Graser, M. "Net appeal, not B.O. zeal," Variety Weekly. p. 10. August 24-30, 1998.
  2. Ryan, J. "Building buzz," Business 2.0. pp. 22-26, July 1998.

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