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Flixster's "Movies" aims to connect film fans

 A man tries out the new iPhone 3GS on the first day it is being sold in Spain at the company
A man tries out the new iPhone 3GS on the first day it is being sold in Spain at the company's store in downtown Madrid June 19, 2009. REUTERS/Susana Vera
— image credit: Reuters

By Alex Dobuzinskis

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Film website Flixster launched a new version of its iPhone application "Movies" this week, highlighting how technology and the Web are bringing Hollywood directly to fans and bypassing traditional information outlets like newspapers.

The transition has wreaked havoc on the newspaper industry which has seen advertising pages plummet as movie studios shift their marketing efforts to the Web, but for social networking websites like Flixster, the change is boosting their users.

"Movies" allows users of Apple Inc's iPhone to read about films and stars, buy tickets, and write their own reviews to share with others who in turn influence word-of-mouth publicity, or "buzz," for movies.

"For the first time, we have a tool that goes directly to a consumer," said Jason E. Squire, a professor at the University of Southern California School of Cinematic Arts.

"Nothing is more challenging to an advertiser," he said.

Flixster, the social network behind the free-to-consumers "Movies" application, said it has seen an 83 percent increase in users over the last six months, and recently crossed the 6 million mark.

The application is linked to Flixster's website, and Flixster claims to have 20 percent of all U.S. iPhone owners using the "Movies" application.

"People say word-of-mouth is the single biggest determinant of whether to see a movie, and a lot of that word-of-mouth is now happening online through sites like ours," said Joe Greenstein, co-founder and chief executive of Flixster.

SHIFT TO WEB

Mark Ghuneim, founder of online tracking firm Trendrr, said Hollywood studios are reacting to the "live" ability of social networking websites to affect box office results, and are spending more to advertise on the Internet.

"I think everyone sees an opportunity," said Gordon Paddison, a former online marketing executive with New Line Cinema and now a consultant for major studios.

As one example, Paddison recently was involved in a marketing campaign for alien adventure "District 9," which opened No. 1 at U.S. box offices in August. One of the promotion strategies was to generate fan interest by encouraging people to report "non-human" activity.

With the shift to the Web, the number of newspaper pages with movie ads has shrunk. In the first quarter of this year, motion picture advertising in U.S. newspapers fell 24 percent to $141 million, the Newspaper Association of America said. The drop continued into the second quarter, hitting $107 million.

Major U.S. theater chains Regal Entertainment Group and AMC Entertainment Inc have curtailed their own showtime listings in newspapers, relying on the Web to provide that information.

In fact, Flixster's "Movie" application is completely supported by advertising, and it allows users to network on the website and through their iPhones without paying anything.

"There are people on the site who write three-page reviews on Flixster with screenshots and links to the trailer, and there are some that write, 'This movie rocks' and they spell 'rocks' wrong," Greenstein said. "And the truth is both are legitimate word-of-mouth around the movie."

(Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis: Editing by Bob Tourtellotte and Eric Walsh)

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