July 7, 2006

Studios Catching Viral Bug to Promote New DVDs Online

LOS ANGELES -- Online video sites like YouTube are Hollywood's hottest new marketing tool. And in a way similar to what their theatrical counterparts are doing with new movies, studio DVD marketers are scrambling to harness the power of viral marketing by posting trailers of upcoming DVD releases to these nascent sites and hoping they get passed along -- again, and again, and again.

Some studios are even staging contests and other promotions to capture the interest of the mostly teens and young adults who tend to use these sites -- the same demographic that drives DVD sales.

"Because DVD consumers are increasingly getting their entertainment information online, Internet marketing has become an intrinsic component of all our DVD campaigns," said Ken Graffeo, exec vp marketing at Universal Studios Home Entertainment. "The key is coming up with creative concepts that speak directly to a title's core audience."

In March, Universal partnered with Revver, another video site whose official launch is this month, to promote the "Dave Chappelle's Block Party" DVD. Consumers were asked to create their own video, explaining why Chappelle should attend their own fictional block party; creators of the five most popular videos received a free DVD, while the grand prize winner also got a four-day, three-night expense-paid trip to New York.

Paramount Home Entertainment recently started posting "some content" to YouTube and now averages three trailers a month.

"We want to make sure it's right for our audience," said Michael Arkin, the supplier's senior vice president of marketing. "Right now we have a fun video from our upcoming release 'Queer Duck: The Movie."'

Arkin said Paramount began posting trailers "because our target (audience) now really migrates online to find information about DVDs."

It's not just the big studios, either.


"YouTube is a key component in our overall marketing and publicity strategy," said Greg Newman, executive vice president development for MPI Home Video and Dark Sky Films. "Much of our business is in the area of releasing special-edition versions of films that have been available previously on DVD. It is essential for us to produce product that renders previous releases obsolete.

"For our upcoming re-release of the original 'The Texas Chainsaw Massacre,' we will use YouTube to allow consumers to preview bonus materials, to view exclusive content and to reinforce the message that ours is unquestionably the best release ever of this horror classic."

Tartan Video "not only uses established video-clip sites such as iFilm and YouTube, but also grants exclusive clips and trailers to independent entertainment Web sites such as Bloody-Disgusting.com, JoBlo.com and Twitchfilm.com," said president Tony Borg. "Each of these sites post news, reviews and information about our titles, so it's an extension of the awareness to its readers."

Koch Vision began posting trailers of its films on YouTube last February. "Its popularity, coupled with the legal controversy regarding copyright infringement (over the airing of a 'Saturday Night Live' skit called 'Lazy Sunday,' which led to a cease-and-desist letter from NBC) opened our eyes to the influence that this site could wield," said Wally Schmidt, vice president marketing and product development at Koch Vision/Koch Lorber Films. "Having already witnessed the enormous potential of online clip placements with 'Save the Green Planet,' which was a No. 1 downloaded trailer on VideoDetective.com in April 2005, we made a conscious effort to work YouTube into every appropriate marketing plan in development."

YouTube, which is now streaming more than 50 million video clips a day, has spawned a growing flock of me-too Web sites that also allow users to post, watch, share (via e-mail) and, in some cases, download videos.

Statistics show that 180 new video sites launched in the last three months alone, and they're generating growing amounts of traffic -- a fourfold increase in the past six months, said LeeAnn Prescott, senior research analyst at Hitwise, which measures online use.

YouTube is now the 39th most popular Web site overall, according to Hitwise statistics. As recently as April, it was No. 75. YouTube said that 50,000 new videos are uploaded to its site daily.

Big money has taken notice: Several sites have pulled in millions of dollars in funding from investors that include such famous names as Michael Eisner, William Randolph Hearst III and Time Warner.

The move to promote DVDs through viral video sites is part of an overall shift to Web marketing by the studios.

Lionsgate is partnering with Habbo Hotel, a popular online gaming Web site, to premiere the first 10 minutes of the upcoming made-for-video feature "Ultimate Avengers 2." The clip will be shown on the Web site for two weeks before the August 8 release date.

On July 24, registered Habbo Hotel users will be invited to a virtual "premiere party" in which they can re-create the red-carpet experience by buying event attire, renting a limo and even walking the press line as they enter the "Habbo Theater." They can then view footage of the film and respond immediately, even while the footage is still playing.

"The opportunity to get this type of instant reaction allows us to generate grassroots-level excitement about the film and significant word-of-mouth buzz leading up to the release," Lionsgate vice president marketing Michael Rathauser said.

Reuters/Hollywood Reporter