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High-Definition Trailers to Move From PC to TV

Paramount offers movie previews through the Xbox 360 to reach 12- to 34-year-old viewers.

April 11, 2006|Dawn C. Chmielewski | Times Staff Writer

Coming soon to a video game console near you: high-definition movie previews.

Paramount Pictures Corp. this week plans to offer high-definition downloads of its upcoming films "Mission: Impossible III" and "Nacho Libre" through Microsoft Corp.'s Xbox 360.

Paramount's experiment highlights the key role that next-generation video game consoles from Microsoft and Sony Corp. are likely to play as more entertainment moves online. Last month, Epic Records announced that it would offer free music video downloads from emerging artists on Xbox 360.

Both efforts reflect the eagerness of entertainment companies to reach a young, elusive audience whose attention is sliced ever thinner by the television, computer, game console and cellular phone.

"It hits the audience in a big way -- the 12- to 34-year-old audience. That's the sweet spot of frequent moviegoers," said Gerry Rich, Paramount's president of worldwide marketing. "They're the early adopters. We think they impact and influence a lot of folks. They're gatekeepers of what's cool and what's not."

It is also a subtle opportunity for Viacom Inc.-owned Paramount to plug the technological successor to DVDs. The Xbox 360 is the first of the new generation of game consoles that support high-definition video and surround sound. Paramount's downloads will get the high-definition movie trailers off computer screens and onto the screen where images are most lush -- high-definition televisions.

"You want to get the high-definition monitor owners drooling," said Michael Pachter, an analyst with Wedbush Morgan Securities in Los Angeles. "It's clever marketing. It's a good, solid, high-income, early adopter niche."

The ability to extend play beyond the narrow confines of the living room is an increasingly important feature for game consoles. Microsoft says more than half of those who bought the Xbox 360 -- an estimated 2 million people -- connect to its online service, Xbox Live, to send and receive voice and text messages, download playable demos of upcoming games or get free entertainment content.

That's a significant change from the original Xbox, which attracted only 10% of its players online. And the Web attraction is what caught the attention of the entertainment industry's marketing gurus.

"Record labels and movie studios are coming to us and trying to figure out new ways to reach their consumers," said Aaron Greenberg, group marketing manager for Xbox Live. "They're coming to us because the 18- to 34-year-old demographic -- which is their core demographic -- is becoming harder and harder to reach."

Greenberg said the Xbox Live's digital cul-de-sac, in which content can be downloaded but can't escape its electronic confines, was particularly appealing to those in the entertainment industry who worry about Internet piracy.

"It's ideal for movie studios and record labels to distribute their high-definition assets in a way that's secure, cannot be copied, cannot be shared but can be viewed," Greenberg said. "It definitely is a factor in allowing us to get the rights."

Starting Wednesday, Paramount will offer high-definition movie trailers for "Mission: Impossible III," a Tom Cruise action-thriller that reaches theaters May 5, and "Nacho Libre," a Jack Black comedy due out June 16. Gamers also can customize their game environment with art from the movies or adopt one of the on-screen characters as their online identity, known as a gamer tag.

"What we're trying to do is blend the frontiers between gaming and movies and offer our content in a way that's accessible and meaningful to them," said Amy Powell, Paramount's senior vice president of interactive marketing.

Rich of Paramount said he was not too worried about piracy. The goal of the Xbox Live exercise is to promote the films, not keep them under wraps.

"We want these materials exposed to the world," he said. "That's part of the reason for this strategy."

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