Moviefone relaunches website, adds texting



"Mr. Moviefone" Russ Leatherman
 
Q&A with 'Mr. Moviefone' Russ Leatherman

NEW YORK -- AOL's Moviefone is celebrating its 20th anniversary Friday with a relaunch of its website and new applications that try to put the "fone" back into Moviefone and add social features for the Facebook and Twitter generation.

"Since moviegoing is inherently a social experience, we're threading a user's social graph throughout the Moviefone experience," AOL Entertainment senior vp Kerry Trainor said. (Check out a video demonstration of the new Moviefone at the end of this article.)

One key Web upgrade is an integration with Facebook, which allows Moviefone.com users to hit the "like" button that is a popular Facebook feature and share with friends which films and content they enjoy. They also can receive alerts in their Facebook news feed about movies they are interested in. Plus, Moviefone.com visitors can invite friends to a movie by creating a Facebook event.

Facebook features also are part of a new iPhone application, and the company is working on getting such functionality onto Android and BlackBerry devices.

"We are excited about the Facebook relationship because we have also been focusing more on social media," said one studio executive who has been briefed on the relaunch.

The Facebook relation is not exclusive, but no competitors offer such functionality, according to the Moviefone team.

"This will really put us ahead [of the competition] and drive new traffic," including likely from more younger users, said Jared Willig, vp and GM of Moviefone and several other AOL sites. Moviefone's audience is broad and similar to the overall population, and the site has been looking to grow its reach among core young moviegoers in addition to family audiences.


New Moviefone ad
 
"It's much more interactive, but it's still the same vision," said "Mr. Moviefone" Russ Leatherman, who co-founded the company with friends as a telephone-only service and has remained a key part of the firm's creative team and its public face. "Moviefone is still about making getting to the movies easy."

One Web addition for the Twitter generation that features him prominently is "Mr. Moviefone's Six Second Reviews," brief videos for people with short attention spans who want to know whether to see or skip a movie.

When it comes to focusing on the "fone" portion of the business, Moviefone users now can send a customized text message with movie times to friends, family or their own phones. The mobile version of the site and the iPhone app also allow moviegoers to buy tickets on the go.

"With the rise of the mobile Web, we have really put the fone back in Moviefone," Trainor said. "The phone emerges again and is probably the go-to device for the moviegoer, and we want Moviefone to be the absolute center of that."

Moviefone.com also is putting the most popular information front and center in its redesign. Research showed 93% of users visit the site to get showtimes. That's why that info is now at the top of the homepage and is searchable by movie, actor, theater or location.

Among other upgrades, the site's reviews section allows users to rate whether people should see a movie, "skip it" or "maybe" go see it. The rankings get added up to show an overall see-it-or-skip-it rating from moviegoers next to an overall critics rating and Facebook friends' likes.

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