Internet Increasingly Integral to Entertainment Marketing

WEST HOLLYWOOD, CALIF. – The courtship between Hollywood and the Internet has gone on for years, but never before has it been more obvious to entertainment marketing strategists that the integration of the two is a match made in heaven.

The Internet has become a platform that can happily marry advertisers, brand marketers, and content providers, all in the name of creating a rich media experience for impressionable consumers who will log on and pay membership fees, so long as Internet portals like Yahoo! or multimedia conglomerates like AOL/Time Warner can package the experience meaningfully and attractively.

At least that was the consensus here at a meeting of networking group iHollywood Forum, where key marketing and advertising strategists spoke of coming to rely on the Internet as a key component in all types of marketing campaigns, including the promotion of movies, music, and multimedia content, not to mention the products that hitch a ride on those entertainment vehicles via product placements.

According to Scott Richman, executive director of marketing for AOL Music, what makes the Internet such an essential element in marketing strategies is the ability to measure consumer interest in real-time and gain immediate access to what works and what doesn’t in terms of a product or campaign.

“The beauty of this medium is that by having direct access to the pulse of the consumer, marketers can better understand what approach to take,” said Richman, who works with brand marketing partners to create integrated music marketing, sponsorship, advertising programs, and cross-platform programs across AOL’s music properties and brands, including Netscape, CompuServe, AIM, ICQ, Winamp, and Spinner.

Richman believes that the golden rule of online marketing is to remain credible to your audience. “If they sense you’re trying to sell them something, they don’t like it. Your online community is smarter than you think,” he said.

Richman went on to add that AOL’s success has been directly tied to its dedication to creating a meaningful online experience for its subscribers and then letting its marketers leverage that edge in their reach to consumers.

One of the other online publishers more ardently courting entertainment marketers is Yahoo!, whose chief executive officer Terry Semel, hails from that industry, having served as chairman and co-CEO of Warner Bros.

Since Semel’s ascendancy, Yahoo! has developed alliances with all the major studios and television networks, competing with AOL, which has multiple sister companies and movie studios under its wing that act as major content suppliers for online and offline promotional campaigns.

Doug Hirsch, senior director for Yahoo! Movies and Yahoo! TV, believes the Internet is becoming integral to movie marketing. “It can really spur moviegoers in a way that no other medium can right now,” he said. “It is also an ideal way to track consumer behavior and create a buzz over media products.”

Hirsch added that online consumers are more hypersensitive than any other type of consumer, and that trust is essential to any marketing vehicle, which means the Yahoo! brand name is very important.

But above all else, says Hirsch, the key to leveraging the power of the Internet is in creating a sense for consumers that they saw it, heard it, or read it online first, before it appeared on any other media outlet.

Many movie studios and record labels use Internet marketing strategies to release singles before they hit the radio stations or movie trailers before they hit the theaters. The “sneak peek” or the “first listen” is a proven attraction for online consumers.

“Exclusive content is what people want to see,” said Hirsch. “And Yahoo! is really moving up in the food chain in terms of being chosen by movie studios and other advertisers to provide sneak peek content. The notion of ‘first’ or ‘the next best thing’ is a very solid one.”

AOL, with its strong ties to sister companies in the entertainment space, agrees. “It’s a very attractive thing for content suppliers to make their content available to online consumers before it reaches the mainstream,” said Richman.

Richman said the promotion of the most recent album from the pop group TLC was an example of one of AOL’s recent marketing successes. AOL marketed the album via a multi-tiered campaign that involved music downloads, interviews with the singers, and a Short Messaging Service (SMS) campaign through an alliance with wireless carrier T-Mobile to reach the “people who are not always at their desktops,” said Richman.

Broadband has long been touted as a booster of Internet marketing’s power, but neither AOL or Yahoo! want to isolate or lose touch with the huge number of Internet consumers who still use dial-up.

“We’re trying to be smart about it,” said Hirsch. “But we’re actively pursuing faster delivery of content as well as delivering the entertainment content itself as bandwidth becomes more accessible.”

AOL’s has been pursuing a multi-pronged initiative. It’s been pitching AOL broadband radio as a platform for record labels to showcase emerging artists; has launched MusicNet, a music service formed by RealNetworks Inc., AOL Time Warner, Bertelsmann, and EMI Group; and has improved the AOL Media Player to provide faster, television-quality downloads.

“AOL’s key strategy is to optimize what we are doing but in the broadband space,” said Richman. “But we continue to create content programming for both narrowband and broadband consumers.”

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