Disney's twist on film promo

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To market its big animated summer release, "Atlantis: The Lost Empire," Walt Disney Co.'s Buena Vista Pictures has formulated a highly unusual strategy of launching a "prequel" of the movie in the form of a full-version interactive game. Perhaps more unusual is that the game is free.

Some 13 million CDs--the most freebies of an interactive game ever given away--will be distributed by Kellogg Co., Buena Vista Home Entertainment, Disney theme parks and Eastman Kodak Co. (via drug-store chain Walgreens) starting in April.

The prequel is called "The Search for the Journal," and it's the back-story of how a book-"The Shepherd's Journal," the guide to finding the lost city of Atlantis--was found.

"We have never done a prequel," said Michael Mendenhall, president of synergy and marketing for Walt Disney Co. "We have never given a game away to market a film. For us, this will generate incredible awareness."

Other movies have been derived from interactive games-such as Paramount Pictures' coming summer release, "Tomb Raider." However, most video games are derived from movies and usually debut about six months after a popular film's release, as was the case with games based on Warner Bros.' "The Matrix" and Disney's "102 Dalmatians." But the "Atlantis" game will be used specifically to boost the movie.

Creating buzz for theatrical releases is key to their box-office success. And "The Search for the Journal" game will do just that, especially since the PC game is meant to be played with other players on the Internet, although it can be played solo, too.

"Everyone is talking about age compression," said Jamie Berger, director of marketing for Disney Interactive. "[Companies] are looking for edgier fare. The gaming world is the way for a studio [with a movie] to reach that audience."

It's common for game publishers to give away demos in gaming magazines and through Web sites where players can download them. But at most, a game publisher might give away between 10,000 and a half-million CD games-even then, they're usually just demos and allow players to advance only to limited levels.

Disney, working with its Disney Interactive unit, hopes a big payoff comes in the form of box-office revenues for "Atlantis" and for another game based on the film-one that will carry a retail price of $29.99. (A $5 rebate comes with the prequel freebie.) Come May 15, Disney Interactive will release a second game, titled "Atlantis," which will take Internet prequel players to the next level of the game. The second game will be produced for the Sony Playstation and Playstation 2, PC, GameBoy, and GameBoy Color platforms.

Kellogg will package the disk on the outside of its Corn Pops cereal. In other brands, consumers can mail in for the game. Kodak, working with Walgreens' photo-developing service, will give away games when consumers pick up their developed film. For both Kodak and Kellogg, the deal is a promotional one where no money is exchanged.


Buena Vista Home Entertain-ment plans to insert the game into the DVD release of "The Emperor's New Groove," which comes out next month. Disney also will give away the game at its theme parks and hotels in the U.S.

"Atlantis" makes its debut June 15, and Kellogg, Kodak, PepsiCo's Frito-Lay and McDonald's Corp. will be the movie's main theatrical tie-in partners, which together will do dedicated paid advertising for the film totaling some $45 million, plus other promotional activities.

Giving away 13 million games would seemingly put the financial structure of this deal deep in red ink. But Disney executives say this isn't like any other deal. The movie's production cost is estimated at between $80 million and $100 million.

"We think it's a great opportunity to expand the market," said Mr. Berger. "We look at this for the benefit for the overall property. That's why it works in a company like Disney." Says Mr. Mendenhall: "You can't look at the old financial models. This is helping the game and helping the film."

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