Dream of Being an Action Hero?

Verison puts "you" in the director's chair with its new protal.

Broadband service isn’t always easy to illustrate or promote. Everyone knows that broadband means “always on” and faster than dial-up service, but laymen don’t necessarily know what else makes broadband worth having. 

A recent campaign for Verizon’s broadband services, “Action Hero,” aims to spell out some of the other benefits of high-speed Internet access.

“We wanted to [extend our image] from phone company and cell-phone provider to include things like movies and gaming,” says Brian Price, executive director of Verizon’s Online Center of Excellence.

With the “Action Hero” initiative, Verizon offers users the chance to create their own animated broadband films to highlight the capabilities of Verizon’s new broadband entertainment portal, “Surround.”

Other content created for the portal to date includes online gaming service Playlinc and Beatbox Mixer, an interactive video and music tool which let users combine digitally recorded video tracks into mixes of their own. Still in beta, Surround is expected to be formally launched this summer. Verizon believes that the more involved customers are with the service, the more satisfied they’ll be. A growing array of interactive content could also encourage users to upgrade to a faster Verizon connection. 

For Verizon, part of this consumer push comes as the company is in the midst of a $23 billion investment from 2004 through 2010 to upgrade its high speed broadband network, with a goal of offering the fastest broadband speeds on the market, plus TV services.

Verizon says there are 864,000 FiOS Internet customers overall to date, but does not disclose subscriber figures for different packages with different connection speeds within the service.

Verizon partnered with its communications agency, RG/A, to develop the multifaceted Action Hero campaign that invites consumers to make and star in their own action adventure film via or

Riding the consumer-generated media wave, Verizon offers consumers creative control to customize short films with a free interactive online tool that renders movies according to specific directions from consumers. The rendering tool was created by RG/A and gives amateur filmmakers a chance to be directors.

 RG/A set up an automated computer graphics studio and linked it to the Action Hero Web site. The actual process for filmmakers is fairly straightforward:

They upload a photo of themselves, which then undergoes 3-D modeling. Then they choose one of three “action” plots, extra characters (from a library), dialog and other elements.

Each movie has three scenes: an opening, a chase and anending. Within that framework, budding Steven Spielbergs were given flexibility to direct the film and choose dialog based on personality choices (laid-back or he-man, for example). They are also able to pick a soundtrack, ranging from rock to hip-hop to orchestral, and title their opus.

Creating characters fresh requires anywhere from 12 to 24 hours — a long time for those used to instant gratification online, but relatively short

compared to typical Hollywood timelines. Consumers with Verizon’s FiOS service will

find their rendering time to be the fastest.

Once the movie is ready, Verizon e-mails consumers a link to a pseudo “screening room” to view the film. People who choose to star in the film were added to a library of characters that other people can cast in films. So not only could someone star in his or her own film, but they could be cast in another person’s film.

In addition to allowing consumers to post films to their blogs, Verizon also offers them a movie editor for more customization and editing.

To come up with the idea for Action Hero, Price says the group didn’t have to look much further than what everyone has been talking about — blogs, viral ad campaigns, YouTube and even reality TV and our own growing fascination with ourselves — something that culminated and was seen most viscerally by the masses last year as Time magazine named “You” the person of the year in 2006.

The campaign picked up where the precursor campaign Beatbox Mixer left off. Verizon launched the online music service last year. The idea was for consumers to combine digitally recorded video tracks into mixes of their own. That effort got press pickup in venues including Billboard magazine and

In addition, a mass e-mail for Beatbox Mixer went out on the arts/entertainment site — which turned out to be more effective than the group thought. “What was surprising is that with [the] viral [component] we didn’t know what to think,” says Price. “We thought we’d view it as successful if picked up in blogs, but it was also picked up in [top consumer magazines].”

Action Hero runs with that theme, but in an even more complex iteration. Verizon also aimed to make Action Hero viral by letting consumers post their Action Hero movies to other sites like YouTube.

As a result, the Action Hero movie program has been mentioned in dozens of blogs including:,,,, and even in French on and

To get the word out to potential users of Action Hero and others who would get a kick out of the technology, Verizon ran banner ads on msn and did a media buy with Cool Huntings and MySpace — the latter a venue which Price says has been trending up a bit in age to about 30 years old.

About one in 10 visitors to the Action Hero site are repeat visitors, Price says. What’s more, visitors spend an average of 7 minutes, 45 seconds on the site, says Price.

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