Commentary

Not Your Father's Moviefone: AOL Struggles to Touch Up Old Brand on iPad

MoviePhone

In recent months it took some controversy dust ups to remind us that that AOL's Moviefone film listings site and trailer park still existed. There was a controversial exchange between the film site's editors and sister AOL site Tech Crunch, in which the editor seemed a bit too protective of the movie studios.

And then more recently a memo leaked from that same editor, who was caught offering some of the freelance writers AOL just fired the opportunity to write for the site for free. The editor got sacked.

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And so there really hasn't been a lot of good news from a site that seemed to occupy that Abe Vigoda wing of Internet content - really, still alive?

AOL makes an effort to update and proliferate the Moviefone legacy in a new iPad app that is slickly done and seems designed to highlight some of the things we missed in the umpteen years we haven't gone to the site.

For the movie hound, the app actually is nicely done and feels more editorially rich than some of the other listings-driven apps. The new app is sponsored by the 2011 Tribeca Film Festival and as such is able to offer exclusive five-minute clips from many of the films featured at the event.

The overall presentation of content in the app actually is quite good. The design makes strong use of swiping maneuvers to bring in panels of overlaid details about a film. The trailers of course play nicely and have AirPlay support for showing on a larger screen via Apple TV. But it is the exclusive news and video content that gives the app a shot at reviving the brand or introducing it to new audiences. Moviefone has a thick feed of celebrity and film industry news. But even more to the point it has generated some video series of its own. The Six Second Reviews are literally that - frantic quick takes explaining film content, target audience and general quality in a sentence or two. The concept is more clever than the execution, however. Ten second reviews might be more effective.

Perhaps more interesting and overlooked is the very good "Unscripted" series of celebrity-on-celebrity interviews. These videos reunite film partners (lead actors, director and actor, etc.) from a recent film and have them interview one another. It is a really good idea that comes off well. The actors bring their familiarity with one another and it is a view into celebrity that comes without the unctuous presence of the fawning celebrity interviewer.

The problem with the Moviefone app seems to be the same problem Moviefone itself has. It doesn't put forward well enough some of its best assets. These two video features that distinguish the site and set its editorial tone are barely visible in the iPad app. They get lost amidst the trailers. The "Unscripted" series is so good, the app really needs to give us a section that archives the many older ones. 

Is this the AOL story? Somewhere in there some great content is being made. Good luck finding it, however.
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