BermanBraun on Moviefone’s Revival: We See Enormous Opportunity in a Stalled Brand

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Gail Berman and Lloyd Braun talk with TheWrap about their plans for AOL’s moldering brand

BermanBraun has its work cut out for itself trying to revive AOL’s moldering Moviefone brand.

Although Moviefone commanded a more than $400 million price tag when AOL acquired it in 1999 at the height of the internet boom, its value has been dented as first theater chains took their ticketing business to Fandango and Movietickets.com and other movie blogs captured much of the audience of film fans. Fandango now provides the ticketing service for Moviefone, which has tried to re-brand itself as a content creator.

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Bolstering that content will be key to BermanBraun’s overhaul, which they promise will come sometime in 2014. The company has deep ties to both internet and traditional media companies — Gail Berman is the former president of Paramount Pictures and was a top executive at Fox, while co-founder Lloyd Braun was chairman of ABC Entertainment Television Group before a stint running content at Yahoo!

The execs acknowledged the brand’s challenges, but maintain there’s still plenty of potential for it in the mobile age.

What makes you the right choice to overhaul Moviefone?
Gail Berman: We bring two things. Our knowledge of digital and our knowledge of traditional media and our relationships in both worlds.

What interested you in the product?
Lloyd Braun: We saw a big opportunity in the space to really reinvent Moviefone for the mobile world. This is a product that has a lot of good will and name recognition in the public. In fact, it was a little ahead of its time, in that people are using phones and mobile devices for virtually everything these days.

The brand has more or less stalled over the last several years, but we think there’s an enormous opportunity. We want to extend the brand to apply to all premium content and to create a mobile-centric experience that allows people to find and watch what they want in a seamless, easy, fun and engaging way.

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It’s interesting that you say Moviefone was ahead of its time, because in some respects the “phone” part of the title seems antique given that people no longer calling for showtimes. Does the name still work?
Berman: Absolutely, we think the name is still relevant for our time. It’s of great value. There’s enormous name recognition for the brand and that’s of even greater importance in the mobile era.

How has this deal been structured? The press release describes it as a partnership. Are you investing in Moviefone? Are you getting a slice of ad revenues?
Braun: This is going to shock you, but we really can’t talk about it other than to say that both AOL and our company are working together in a partnership and we are incentivized to make it work.

What about staffing? Will you be adding staff?
Braun: We are dealing with a bunch of staffing issues now. We will be retaining some talented people that we’re excited to bring to our company and we have some great people from our company who will be getting involved and we’ll be hiring.

When you’re talking about content, Huffington Post also operates under the AOL umbrella. Will you integrate their entertainment coverage into the site?
Braun: We’re going to incorporate great content from a variety of sources and we fully expect that Huffington Post will be one of those sources.

Also read: AOL CEO Tim Armstrong Apologizes for Publicly Firing Employee, Does Not Hire Him Back

What’s the biggest challenge you face?
Braun: Everything is a challenge. Nothing is easy. We’re not going to be able to roll everything out at once, because it’s just not feasible. We’re going to do this in steps, and the first step is not going to reflect what our ultimate vision is going to be.

As the media landscape continues to evolve, we believe we can position Moviefone to take advantage of that landscape. As everything starts to change, as distribution starts to change, as new devices come out and as new business models emerge, we are going to approach everything from the prism of content rules.

Has AOL embraced your vision?
Berman: We are thrilled that they’ve entrusted this iconic brand with us. [AOL CEO] Tim Armstrong and [AOL Brand Group CEO] Susan Lyne share our vision of where Moviefone needs to go. They are not wedded to any legacy business model, they’re enormously forward thinking and that’s a big part of what makes this so exciting.