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Hollywood has been very, very good to MovieFone this year.

The 9-year-old movie listings service is benefiting from the increasing degree of sophistication with which studios are marketing their movies. In fact, J. Russell Leatherman, MovieFone's president and distinctive voice, can quantify that benefit: Ad inventory is more than 50% sold for the year, the earliest MovieFone has ever reached that mark.

"Motion picture studios are starting to understand the importance of target marketing [rather] than a scattershot shotgun approach," Mr. Leatherman said.

It's also cut-throat competition, especially in the summer, that's sparking MovieFone's sales frenzy.

"We have studios booking space two years in advance," he said. "They're thinking, `Hey, I know I have a blockbuster movie coming out in June 1999, and I want to buy everything you have in that month.' "

MovieFone's 1998 advertisers include nearly every Hollywood studio. Mr. Leatherman wouldn't comment on the terms of each studio's ad buys, but it's said that Sony has made a substantial buy in May to promote "Godzilla."

This competition and strategic marketing have contributed to an 8% increase in MovieFone's ad rates from 1997. Advertisers pay on average between 15 cents and 17 cents per call received.

MovieFone promises a captive audience, since callers can't bypass the ad message. Mr. Leatherman believes they don't want to. "It's like our version of a movie trailer," said Mr. Leatherman.

He said studios have gotten more creative for MovieFone, creating customized ads instead of cutting a radio spot to fit its format.

But studios aren't the only ones to use MovieFone as an ad medium. Mr. Leatherman said a major consumer electronics company has made a large buy for the summer months. MovieFone recently hired Nada Stirratt as senior VP-ad sales to cultivate non-studio business.

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