Movie promotion on the Internet. Historical approach.

In the summer of 1995, media and advertising executives announced that the Internet had become the " new frontier" in film promotion. Marketing Batman Forever(1995), Warner Bros. was the first to promote a major feature film using a Website as the campaigns center-piece. The Web address (or URL) was included on posters, print and television advertisements, and radio spots, and the Batman Foreverlogo appeared with the URL without elaboration at bus and train stations. The films Website offered a hypertextual narrative that linked to plot twists and hidden pages for users to discover by correctly answering a series of concealed questions posed by the Riddler, one of the films main characters. The Batman Forever Website also cross-promoted ancillary products from its sister companies, including the soundtrack recording and music videos.

In June 1995 Universal Pictures partnered with leading Internet service providers American Online and CompuServe to present the first live interactive multisystem simulcast to promote a film on the Web with Apollo 13star Tom Hanks and director Ron Howard before the premiere. The Website later included special Internet video greetings from some of the films stars and digital still pictures from the films Los Angeles premiere.

In late 1996, the Star Trek: First ContactWebsite received over 30 million hits during its first week of release, at that point the largest traffic ever for a film Website, and by the end of 1996, movie trailers, digitized stills, actor and filmmaker profiles, and computer screensavers were available online for almost every major film released. Web addresses were also commonly included in theatrical trailers, TV commercials, print advertisements, and posters. In 1997 studios were spending approximately $10, 000 to produce an independent films Website and at least $250, 000 for blockbuster studio films.

In 1999 studios began to coordinate Website tie-ins with pay-per-view orders, allowing viewers to play along at home through synchronized Web content. For the DVD release of The Matrix (1999), Warner Bros. scheduled a synchronized screening and Internet chat session with the films directors.

The Blair Witch Project (1999) was one of the most profitable films in history when measured by its return on the initial investment. Made for approximately $50, 000 and grossing over $100 million in US theatrical box-office alone, this financial victory of a low-budget independent film, over the major studio blockbusters spread panic among Hollywood executives, due in large part to the important role of the Internet in the films commercial success. For The Blair Witch Project, however, the Web became the central medium beginning more than a year before the films major theatrical distribution. In this sense, the Web functioned in the 1990s for The Blair Witch Projectin the same way that newspapers and magazines did in relation to the earliest commercial cinema in the 1890s. In addition to the official Blair Witch ProjectWebsite, unofficial Websites and fan pages elaborated the films mythology and offered original narratives. Hundreds of Blair Witch Project video parodies were distributed through the Web.

The failure or success of a Web campaign depends in large part upon the target audience and the films genre. Indeed, many of the examples included here are from genres that appeal to boys and young men, a demographic that comprises a large portion of overall Internet users. To offer another example from the fantasy genre, in 2001 the Wall Street Journalmaintained that the Website for The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ringswas the most elaborate and visited to date, offering audio and video clips in ten languages, an interactive map of Middle Earth, chat rooms, screensavers, interviews with members of the cast and crew, and links to some of the thousands of existing fan sites.

In 2004, the narrative for the Matrixtrilogy was extended beyond the final filmic installment, in the form of The Matrix Online, a video game that also uses the Internet to allow thousands of Matrix fans to role-play within and to develop the films fictional world.

Films also live on beyond their official narratives through creative fan communities, such as the thousands of pages of online fiction that continue the storyline of Titanic(see https://www.titanicstories.com) and hundreds of other films (see https://fanfiction.net), or the active online culture surrounding the Star Warsand Star Trekfilms that includes online writings, artwork, games, and fan films or videos.

By the end of the summer of 2005, industry analysts and mainstream news outlets were announcing the " death of the movie theater" as industry figures and independent film companies began to question and challenge traditional film release windows. It remains to be seen whether or not the major studios will welcome these new methods of exhibition and release windows for distribution.


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