For many, January and February mean snow, cold and the winter doldrums. But for movie fans, it means something much more exciting: movie awards season. As we move from the Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild Awards, and get ready for the Academy Awards, moviegoers will be trying to find out more about the major award winners and figure out which frontrunners they should finally get around to seeing.
Official websites are great sources of information and entertainment for movie fans. They serve as one-stop shops for cast, crew and production information; trailers and other video clips; theatrical and DVD release dates; links to purchase merchandise; and even downloads of soundtracks, wall papers or interactive applications. Unfortunately, for the most part, there is no uniformity across the movie industry in terms of which domain names are used to host these websites so movie fans often have to do some hunting online. Whereas businesses in other industries have made it easy for consumers to predict where to find official content – Nike, for example, owns Nike.com, NikeShoes.com and NikeSoccer.com, among others, and points them to its homepage, its online apparel store and its soccer web pages, respectively – film studios and distributors do not use a common naming system for a variety of reasons. In an industry that has been ravaged by counterfeits, most of which are sold online, and whose business model is completely different than it was a decade ago, one would assume that being found where its audience attempts to find legitimate content online would be of the utmost importance. FairWinds Partners has undertaken a study to examine trends in how film studios and their distribution partners use domain names to promote movies.
FairWinds examined which domain names were advertised in the trailers and on posters for a sample of films from 2000 to 2010. We initially predicted that we would see increasing levels of normalization over the years; in other words, we expected that the movies released more recently would have similarly structured domains. Unfortunately, the lack of normalization that our study revealed shows that the movie industry still has a substantial opportunity in front of them to effectively use domain names to drive traffic to official movie sites.
To determine which movies to include in this study, FairWinds decided to focus on those which receive high levels of press coverage and publicity, and so are often the ones that viewers seek more information about online. We therefore included the nominees for the Academy Award for Best Picture, as well as the highest grossing movie for each year from 2000 to 2010. We consulted Box Office Mojo to find out which movie had grossed the most money in box office sales for each year. Box Office Mojo1 is a website run by IMDb, the Internet Movie Database2, that tracks box office revenue. We turned to the database on the official Academy Awards website3 for the complete list of Best Picture nominees for the same time frame. For the years 2000 through 2008, there were five films nominated for Best Picture, and beginning in 2009, ten films were nominated. In total, we aggregated a list of 72 movies; four movies were both Best Picture nominees and the top-grossing movie the year they were released.
Every year, hundreds of movies get released across the United States and around the world. These movies have titles ranging from a single word, such as the 2009 musical drama Nine, to a veritable mouthful, like Stanley Kubrick’s 1964 classic Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. In many cases, different movies share the same title. An IMDb search for “The Queen” turns up six movies by that title, for example. When it comes to selecting domain names to host the official sites for these movies, scarcity is a significant problem. .COM remains the most popular domain name extension, but in many cases, the movie title has already been registered in .COM, particularly if the title is a common word or phrase. TheFighter.com, for example, the title .COM domain for the 2010 movie The Fighter, has been registered since 2001.
In total, only ten of the 72 movies in the study, or about 14 percent, advertise a Title.com address in promotional materials. Nine of those ten movies were released in 2007 or earlier. Some examples include ErinBrockovich.com for the 2000 movie Erin Brockovich and BrokebackMountain.com for the 2005 movie Brokeback Mountain. For the most part, these titles are more unique than, say, titles like Chicago (2002) orCrash (2005). As time rolls on, more domain names are being registered: according to VeriSign, at this time last year, the total number of domain name registrations had surpassed 192 million, and over 96 million of those were in .COM and .NET4 . With more and more movies released every year and fewer and fewer available .COM domain names, movie studios and distributors are often forced to come up with alternative domain names to host the official websites of the movies they produce.
The most commonly used alternative among the 72 movies in our study was TitleMovie.com. The trailers and posters for films like Gosford Park (2000), The Aviator(2004) and Winter’s Bone (2010) advertised domains like GosfordParkMovie.com, TheAviatorMovie.com and WintersBoneMovie.com. A total of 16 movies, or 22 percent, used this domain name construction. Three more used a similar construction, but with the word “film” instead of movie. These were Crash (2005, CrashFilm.com), Capote(2005, CapoteFilm.com) and An Education (2009, AnEducationFilm.com).
Additionally, some movies also use domain names that incorporate a hyphen or the word “the” along with the terms “movie” or “film.” They include constructions such as InglouriousBasterds-Movie.com for the 2009 movie Inglourious Basterds and NoCountryForOldMen-TheMovie.com for the 2007 feature No Country for Old Men. And for one movie, Finding Neverland (2004), we could not identify any web address, despite having reviewed various movie posters and trailers. Currently, the official website for the movie is located at http://video.movies.go.com/findingneverland/, a format used frequently by Disney.
Typically, when the movie title is not available in the .COM extension, adding the term “movie” or “film” is a smart alternative because it makes the domain name easy to remember for audiences. However, our study revealed that in 17 cases, the URL advertised in the movie trailers and posters with a domain name that did not include the movie title at all. In the case of the first installment of the Lord of the Rings series,The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001), the trailer and poster displayed “America Online Keyword: Lord of the Rings” in place of a domain name. This anomaly likely reflects the time in which the movie was released: back in 2001, the Internet was still just beginning to really take off and become a regular feature in people’s homes. According to statistics from the World Bank, in 2000 only 44 of 100 people in the U.S. were Internet users; by 2008, that number had jumped to 765. At the beginning of the decade, AOL was still a key player in web navigation with AOL Keywords; as Internet adoption rose and users became more adept at using the technology, their navigation behavior evolved. Another curious example is the movieTraffic (2000), which advertised the URL www.amazon.com/traffic.
Those two cases are unique among our study; a more prevalent trend among studios and distributors who elect not to register a domain name based on the movie title is to instead simply base the URL of the production company’s domain. Several movies in our study, 12 in total, actually use the domain name of the production company that made the movie, rather than a domain that includes the movie title in some form. One example is the 2007 film Atonement, for which Focus Features chose to direct viewers to FocusFeatures.com/Atonement. In other cases, the title is not present at all: the advertised domain name for 2008’s Slumdog Millionaire was FoxSearchlight.com. Fox Searchlight, Disney and Miramax appear to be particularly partial to this practice. While this move can bypass the issue of scarcity and eliminate the hassle of trying to identify a unique domain name for each new movie, using the domain name of the production company requires viewers to remember what company actually produced the movie, which is not always a safe bet to make.
Some other movies in our study did not advertise domains with the movie title or the production company, but rather elected to use a creative domain instead. For example, the 2009 film Precious promoted the domain WeAreAllPrecious.com. Similarly, the 2010 movie The Social Network used the domain 500MillionFriends.com, a nod to one of its taglines, “You don’t get to 500 million friends without making a few enemies.” The use of such creative domains can be a boost to movie marketers because they often stick out in viewers’ minds and reinforce branding efforts around the movie.
An additional discrepancy that we observed in this study was the inclusion or exclusion of the word “the” at the beginning of certain movie titles. Some chose to omit it, likeThe Kids Are All Right (advertised domain: KidsAreAllRightMovie.com) and The King’s Speech (advertised domain: KingsSpeech.com). Other movies, on the other hand, insert a superfluous “the” into the advertised domain name, as the case of the 2009 movie Up in the Air, which promoted the domain TheUpInTheAirMovie.com. As it turns out, UpInTheAirMovie.com was unavailable, having been registered since 2001. That domain belongs to Twentieth Century Fox, while Up in the Air was distributed by Paramount Pictures, which registered TheUpInTheAirMovie.com in 2007.
Movie studios across the board have enormous domain name portfolios. Though it is only an estimate, according to Domain Tools, Universal Studios owns over 4,000 domain names; Paramount Pictures and DreamWorks both own over 5,000; Sony Pictures owns over 7,000 and Warner Bros. owns over 16,000. Studios amass such extensive portfolios because they acquire multiple domain names over time but are reluctant to let those domain names go. The Fox Film Corporation (which merged with Twentieth Century Pictures in 1935 to form Twentieth Century Fox) produced a film with the title Up in the Air back in 1923. Despite the fact that it is almost a century old and largely unknown among popular audiences, Twentieth Century Fox is still holding on to a domain name for this movie, UpInTheAirMovie.com.
Beginning in 2010, companies across various industries began to advertise social media addresses in the place of domain names more frequently than ever before. In particular, many direct users to their Facebook pages. In a new television ad campaign, for instance, State Farm directs viewers to its Facebook page, Facebook.com/StateFarmNation. While conducting this study, we expected to find at least a few instances of movie trailers or posters pointing viewers to a Facebook page rather than a domain name, especially for movies released in 2009 and 2010. Surprisingly, although every movie in the study from these two years has a Facebook page, not a single trailer or poster pointed to a Facebook address – they all continued to promote URLs or domain names leading to the official websites. Facebook presents valuable and interesting opportunities for studios to promote movies because it allows them to more directly interact with viewers, who can contribute feedback about the movies and easily share information with their friends.
To summarize, the most salient trend that we observed in the course of examining movie domain names for this study was that there has not been, and there is still not, any kind of industry standard with regards to which domain names are used to promote movies. While it would likely be impossible to expect the players in the film industry to come together and create a standard, studios and distribution partners can all benefit from registering domain names that are easy for viewers to predict. In general, those are domains that include the movie title in some way. Take the 2010 movie Toy Story 3 as an example. According to web analytics company Compete, the domain name ToyStory3.com received close to 4,000 unique visitors in May 2010, the month leading up to the release of the movie, despite the fact that the trailer and poster advertised the domain name Disney.com/ToyStory6. Luckily, Pixar owns the ToyStory3.com domain name and redirects it to the official site for the movie.
This is not the case for every movie, though. In many instances, Internet users are typing in domain names with the expectation that they will reach official movie sites, but are not finding them. 127 Hours (2010) is an example: the advertised domain name for this movie is 127HoursMovie.com. It was first registered by Fox on November 13, 2009. The domain name 127Hours.com was registered a mere nine days before by LeaseDomains.com and currently hosts a pay-per-click site that hosts a variety of ads, none of which lead visitors to the site for 127 Hours. In November 2010, two months before the movie was released, 127Hours.com received over 1,500 unique visitors, according to Compete7. If the studio had made the decision to register the domain names slightly sooner, it would not have missed the opportunity to direct viewers to 127Hours.com, a shorter and easier to remember domain than 127HoursMovie.com.
Because movies are only in theaters – and thus, at the top of most people’s minds – for a limited time, investing in multiple domain names does not have to involve a long-term cost. For domain names that are available, studios can register and maintain those domains until after the movie is released on DVD, and then simply let the domains expire. And if a key domain name, such as the movie title in .COM, is already registered, it may be worth it for a studio to negotiate a deal to buy or lease the domain. Movies produced by major studios frequently have huge marketing budgets; spending a few thousand to buy or lease a highly recognizable and memorable domain name could pay off. For example, the domain name Avatar.com is owned by a consulting company, Avatar Consultants, Inc. According to Compete, traffic to the site spiked around the release of the blockbuster Avatar and has dropped off by more than half since then8. This indicates that movie fans were navigating to Avatar.com in search of information about the movie. Given that the movie had a budget of over $230 million, Twentieth Century Fox could have easily invested in acquiring Avatar.com. Even movies with much more modest budgets invest time and money in making the official websites rich and engaging experiences for movie fans, and so it is worth it for moviemakers to also invest in great domain names when possible.
The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), the organization responsible for coordinating the domain name space, is eager to open up top-level domains (TLDs) beyond .COM and the twenty others that are currently available to an unlimited number of words or terms. If a group or individual chooses to launch a .MOVIE TLD, then the naming space for movie domains will open up dramatically. For example, while BlackSwan.com was not available for the 2010 movie Black Swan, the filmmakers could register BlackSwan.movie if that TLD were to become available to them. If approved, new TLDs could present interesting opportunities and eliminate the scarcity problem that many filmmakers face in .COM.
The drawback to a .MOVIE TLD, however, is that it would need to be properly administrated and restricted in order to maintain credibility as an industry-sanctioned safe zone for film sites online, and also to eliminate the opportunity for domain speculators to register quality domain names in hopes of reselling them for a profit. Under that scenario, .MOVIE could serve to eliminate the current randomness that is prevalent in the current domain naming. In order to achieve this, the Motion Pictures Association of America (MPAA) would likely need to work with studios based in the U.S. and with similar organizations worldwide to agree on using .MOVIE to host official movie sites; perhaps even to apply as a community application. If the TLD were as open as .COM currently is, and a community that made its use restricted did not administer it, then a similar scarcity issue would emerge eventually as a result of speculation.
It remains unclear if and when new TLDs will actually become available. In the meantime, we recommend that filmmakers, movie studios and their distribution partners keep the insights from this study in mind when deciding to register and acquire domain names for new movies. Above all, they should make sure to be where viewers are looking for them, and for now that means registering title-specific .COM domain names.
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