Universal, AOL Expand Promotional Deal

Media titans Vivendi Universal and AOL Time Warner are strengthening their bonds through an expanded agreement to market movies across the New York-based AOL’s Web and TV properties.

Through the deal, which expands on an earlier arrangement, AOL Time Warner will promote motion picture releases from Vivendi-owned Universal Pictures on its online and on-air media.

In addition to the America Online service and AOL Moviefone — which had been covered under the earlier promotional arrangement, — Universal films will receive billing on other AOL-owned sites, including Entertainment Weekly’s EW.com, People.com and TheWB.com. Additionally, the deal calls for marketing and advertising on AOL By Phone and broadcast networks TNT and The WB.

Previously, Universal Pictures — a unit of Vivendi’s Universal Studios — had been an anchor tenant on AOL Moviefone, and received content and promotions throughout America Online. Promotions under that agreement included chats, trailers and celebrity photos for films including “The Mummy Returns”, “Dr. Seuss’ How The Grinch Stole Christmas” and “Jurassic Park III.”

Executives said more of the same could be expected in the future.

“We’re delighted to launch our latest studio releases across AOL Time Warner’s combined media properties,” said Universal Pictures vice chairman Marc Shmuger. “Our relationship with America Online put us at the forefront of online motion picture marketing, and expanding our relationship with AOL Time Warner provides us with an even stronger package of online, offline and television promotions, allowing us to get the greatest value and reach the widest audience.”

Meanwhile, Universal added that the integrated marketing deal will help it to leapfrog competitors, many of whom have smaller ad deals with AOL. For instance, Moviefone also features small ads for Sony, MGM and Disney Pictures films on its home page.

Of course, AOL has also been known to throw sizable on- and offline marketing dollars behind promoting releases from its own New Line Cinema and Warner Bros. Pictures units. But the expanded deal with Universal, at least ostensibly, serves to even the playing field a bit.

“America Online has had a great relationship with Universal Pictures, and we look forward to putting the promotional power of AOL Time Warner’s combination of media assets behind their exciting lineup of upcoming films,” said Barry Schuler, who is chairman and chief executive of AOL’s Dulles, Va.-based America Online unit. “We’re happy that Universal has chosen to extend its marketing initiatives with AOL’s leading online brands, and expand it with new offline promotions across other AOL Time Warner properties.”

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