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Paramount Hopes VooZoo Is More Than a Social-Network Fad

With Mobile Play for Web App, Studio Hopes Sharing Film Clips Will Goose DVD Sales

By Published on .

LOS ANGELES (AdAge.com) -- In March, Paramount became the first (and so far, only) major studio to make thousands of movie clips available for use on the internet. The studio launched VooZoo, a sort of catchphrase-generating application that allowed Facebook users to "quote" lines and even entire scenes from their favorite Paramount films by sharing an actual film clip.
Paramount has inked deals with all major U.S. cellular carriers to expand VooZoo from an app on Facebook to one available to anyone with a web browser.
Paramount has inked deals with all major U.S. cellular carriers to expand VooZoo from an app on Facebook to one available to anyone with a web browser.

Since then, VooZoo has quickly exploded, adding 20,000 members a day, eventually becoming used by several hundred thousand Facebook users. VooZoo clips are designed to promote Paramount movies that are either in theaters or on DVD, and give users the option to buy the "clipped" movie on DVD via a link to Amazon.com.

What else can it do?
"The challenge we face," said Derek Broes, Paramount's exec VP-digital entertainment, "is looking at how this applies to new businesses."

And, of course, how it applies to old businesses, too. Hollywood studios have double trouble: soaring costs and flattening DVD sales.

The Motion Picture Association of America estimated the average cost of producing and marketing a studio picture grew by 6% last year, to $106.6 million, a ballooning figure that doesn't even include many millions more in off-balance-sheet financing provided by Wall Street investors.

DVDs lose momentum
Worse, the bulwark that has protected the movie business' profits has begun to falter: Last year, DVD rentals and sales in the U.S. fell for the first time since the format appeared in 1997. So far this year, DVD sales are flat at around $10.1 billion for the first half of the year, according to data compiled by Rentrak and trade paper Video Business.

That's where VooZoo comes in.
Derek Broes
Derek Broes

Late last week, the studio moved to broaden VooZoo's scope, inking deals with all major U.S. cellular carriers to expand VooZoo from an app for use by anyone on Facebook to one available to anyone with a web browser. The studio's new VooZoo Mobile Movie Messaging Service allows Facebook's 100 million users to sign up for a free trial and send movie-themed multimedia message service (MMS) greetings to their friends' cellphones. Simultaneously, Paramount also launched a partnership with Mogreet.com, offering those not on Facebook the same abilities to send 15- to 30-second film clips to a pal's cellphone for 99ยข.

There is an even greater library of clips on Facebook accessible for $3.99 a month, but VooZoo is designed to be a promotional effort, not a profit center, though that may yet change, too.

Can VooZoo ever bring in money as a long-term, sustainable business? Or is it just the latest gizmo for marketing movie content?

Mr. Broes said it's too early to tell how many of those using VooZoo clips go on to buy the DVDs from which the clips originate. But it does appear that the VooZoo initiative's frenetic pace of clipping (nearly three dozen staffers spend their waking hours carving up Paramount movies) could soon pay dividends in other businesses that clearly are sustainable.

Paramount acquires Screenlife
Last week, Paramount purchased Seattle-based DVD game maker Screenlife ("Scene It?") for reportedly "less than $100 million," according to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, though Paramount wouldn't comment on the final price.

Mr. Broes declined to speak to the company's larger strategy for Screenlife, so it remains unclear if future editions of "Scene It?" will continue to include content from rival studios. But he does allow that clips cleared for VooZoo will play a big role in the growth of "Scene It?"

"It's a natural," said Mr. Broes. "Obviously, we have content in VooZoo that we're turning into [other] self-expression platforms."
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