Movie websites have stalled. I’ve been writing my Movie Marketing Madness column for over a year now and in that time I’ve seen sites evolve not a whit. There’s no ingenuity, no free thinking and, most importantly, no adoption of emerging and new communication tools.
When people visit a movie’s website, their ultimate goal is, presumably, to gain access to information on the movie. There’s very little hidden agenda in a website visit (unless you’re a smartass writer doing research for a sub-standard column each week) and you would think this is pretty self-evident. When people visit Amazon.com, they are doing so to shop for DVDs, books or another item from the 8,000+ categories Amazon now offers. When they visit CNN.com they are looking for news.
The goal of a movies’ website seems to be a little more vague and ill-defined, though. Is the goal of the site to be sticky, keeping a person there for as much time as possible? Is it to push traffic to a shopping site of some sort? Is it to merely regurgitate material – trailers, posters and such – available offline? It has to be something greater than that. It has to be a clearing house for all that material, yes, but it also has to give the visitor something unique while also offering the personalization and portability web surfers increasingly demand.
What movie studios need to do is make the content of their websites reflect the latest trends circulating around the web. Changing with the market is the only way to survive and is something studios haven’t been doing. Here are some tips.
Oh sure, the attacks on blogs are increasing. They’ve been labeled everything from simply the current incarnation of CB radios to mere gnats going up against the media giants. Admittedly some of the criticisms are warranted and accurate. What blogs seem to be doing is very accurately reflecting the personality (or personalities) of their operators. If the person writing it has a specific ideological bent then their blog will bear that out.
Blogs are also increasingly being used as part of larger marketing plans and this is where movie studios need to see their opportunity. A number of companies have begun what is termed “corporate blogging”; meaning corporately controlled and approved blogging. The advantage of doing this is being seen as knowing where the cutting edge of communications is and making sure you’re right there. Blogs are also an increasingly popular source of news, with some web denizens using them as their launch point into the rest of the web.
So why aren’t they used more on movie websites? Studios should assign someone close to the production to blog each day on high profile movies. It doesn’t have to be the director or the star of the movie. I can imaging Spielberg has more important things to do than write a daily blog entry encapsulating what happened on the set of his latest opus each day. Neither is a $20 million per picture thinking to him or herself, “I can’t wait to get back to my trailer and write about this for the blog.” I accept that. But is the assistant director too busy? Better yet, assign a member of the publicity staff to the production. Have that person on the set regularly, blogging on significant developments from that days shoot. I’m not necessarily saying that all the secrets of a production need to be split and I know that some sets (/cough/Lucas/couch) are closed to keep spoilers from leaking (by the way, how’s that working for you?), but there are things that could be relayed to the public by use of a blog.
A blog can also be used in place of formalized press releases or to update visitors to updates on a films website. I tried to find the time to visit each studios website and troll around their movies sites looking for updates but just can’t. There are too many and time just won’t allow. So I rely, as most bloggers do, on the established outlets to alert me to updates. If it weren’t for the sites listed on the left side of this page Movie Marketing Madness: The Blog wouldn’t exist. They have contacts established that I just don’t.
So here are the kinds of topics studios need to, at a minimum, establish a blog covering:
- Website updates (New wallpapers, skins, etc)
- Marketing updates (Trailers, posters, etc)
- Status of movie (pre-production, shooting and post-production)
By creating a one-stop shop of information on how a movie is moving along and what sort of collateral is now available studios could open up their content to a much broader audience and make web visitors feel more a part of the experience.
An essential second step to providing a blog is to provide an RSS feed. RSS (Real Simple Syndication) feeds are ways for web users to pull content automatically into one of a dozen aggregators (I use Bloglines and love it) providing them almost real-time notification of updates or changes to a website.
What an RSS feed means is that a surfer doesn’t have to actually have to bookmark a webpage and visit it each day for updates. The RSS feed will show if any updates have been made to a page since the last time the user checked their aggregator. This is part of the trend that sees the internet as being customizable. One user’s expectations of their time in cyberspace (does anyone still use that term?) are different from someone else’s. RSS aggregators allow a user to crunch their surfing time into manageable chunks. Instead of wasting time visiting bookmarked pages that haven’t updated in days you merely skip over them in your aggregator.
People interested in a movie can add an RSS feed from that movies’ blog to their aggregator of choice and be instantly notified of updates. They can then click through to the actual site and get the full weight of those updates.
OK, so a studio has decided to start a blog. Now it’s time to podcast.
Podcasting, for those unfamiliar with the term, is the posting of MP3 files on a blog that amount to a radio show. These files can then be loaded onto an iPod or other player for the listeners’ enjoyment on their own schedule. Again, the focus here is on content being available when the end user is ready for it, not necessarily when a company – or in this case movie studio – says then can access it.
The advantage of offering a podcast of an interview with the director or star of a movie is that it’s portable. Hosting a streaming video of an interview is all well and good and it definitely is shinier than an audio file but it requires the viewer to be in front of their computer at the time. The trend is toward “time shifting”, a term coined by the use of TiVo and other digital video recorders to “time shift” television viewing. People no longer had to be sitting down at a time determined by network executives in order to watch their favorite show. The flexibility of time (as well as the reduced hassle of setting a VCR and rewinding a tape) made this technology immensely attractive to consumers. Likewise, podcasting is more and more attractive to those who want the same sort of niche information found on blogs to come with them where they go.
More and more websites for new movies are offering samples of the film’s soundtrack as some form of streaming audio. A brief snippet of a song will play under the site or there will be a completely separate site devoted to the soundtrack.
There are two problems here, again with the overarching issues being personalization and portability. Say I don’t have the time to sit in front of my computer and click on all 13 samples just to listen to some half-assed mediocre techno-rock. Instead soundtrack marketers should take a lesson from iTunes.
Occasionally iTunes will release a free “sampler” track with brief (30-second or so) snippets of the songs off an upcoming or just-released album. It’s a great way to give someone unfamiliar with an artist a taste of the record apart from the single on the radio. They have whetted an appetite and perhaps that one free track leads to the purchase of the entire album.
Soundtrack sites should do something similar. Provide a sampler of the record available for download so someone can put it on their computer or MP3 player and listen to it. If they listen to it enough and like it they will go out and buy the record. It’s as simple as that. A little taste often leads to a more expensive decision.
This follows a similar thread of logic as the soundtrack argument. Ringtones are making a lot of money for someone and there’s absolutely no reason movie websites shouldn’t be offering them, especially those for well known franchise movies and/or highly anticipated flicks.
Let’s take Star Wars for example. Imagine if they were to offer two or three ringtones for free, say the main theme from the score and a couple of sound effects. By enticing people to visit a dedicated ringtone section of their online store, Lucasfilm could then hook them in with even better tones available for purchase at $1.99 each.
Essentially there needs to be some evolution, some grasping and embracing of current technologies and trends in order to break out of the clutter of so much else on the web. Websites need to be interactive experiences for the end user. That’s the main thing that will bring them back again and again. These are just a few ideas to push that evolution along.